Palaeoecological implications of the durability and preservation potential of soft-bodied organisms in sediment-density flows: testing turbulent waters

Orla Bath Enright, Nic Minter, Esther J. Sumner

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Abstract

Interpreting how far organisms within fossil assemblages may have been transported and if they all originated from the same location is fundamental to understanding whether they represent true palaeocommunities. In a three-factorial experimental design, we used an annular flume to generate actualistic sandy sediment-density flows that were fast (2 ms-1) and fully turbulent in order to test the effects of flow duration, sediment concentration, and grain angularity on the states of bodily damage experienced by the freshly euthanized polychaete Alitta virens. Results identified statistically significant effects of flow duration and grain angularity. Increasing sediment concentration had a statistically significant effect with angular sediment but not with rounded sediment. Our experiments demonstrate that if soft-bodied organisms such as polychaetes were alive and then killed by a flow then they would have been capable of enduring prolonged transport in fast and turbulent flows with little damage. Dependent upon sediment concentration and grain angularity, specimens were capable of remaining intact over flow durations of between 5 and 180 minutes, equating to transport distances up to 21.6 km. This result has significant palaeoecological implications for fossil lagerstätten preserved in deposits of sediment-density flows because the organisms present may have been transported over substantial distances and therefore may not represent true palaeocommunities.

Original languageEnglish
Article number170212
JournalRoyal Society Open Science
Volume4
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 7 Jun 2017

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