Differential taphonomy of modern brachiopods (San Juan Islands, Washington State): effect of intrinsic factors on damage and community-level abundance



The differences in shell structure and population turnover between organic-poor, impunctate (Hemithiris) and organic-rich, punctate brachiopod (Terebratalia) in a mixed-bottom, siliciclastic setting (San Juan Islands, WA) lead to different taphonomic damage and fidelity with respect to community-level abundance in death assemblages. In comparing shell interiors of similar-sized specimens, Terebratalia is predominantly affected by fibre detachment and shows almost no microbioerosion at the SEM scale; whereas, Hemithiris shows less marked fibre detachment at the SEM scale and is more intensely affected by microbioerosion both at SEM and light microscope (LM) scales. Fibre detachment related to rapid, microbially-induced organic matter decay appears to be the main destructive process acting on Terebratalia. Higher bioerosion levels in Hemithiris at SEM and LM scales are probably related to a combination of a low maceration rate and a preferential settlement by borers. From their vastly different abundances in life assemblages it can be deduced that Terebratalia produces dead shells at a much higher rate than Hemithiris. Therefore, the proportion of altered Terebratalia, relative to Hemithiris, is expected to be decreased due to its higher production of recently dead cohorts. That Terebratalia is also characterized by high damage levels shows that differential population turnover alone is not responsible for the differences in taphonomic damage. This shows that organic-rich and organic-poor shells are characterized by differential post-mortem durability. Although very few Hemithiris are present in the life assemblages, high durability ensures its relative over-representation in death assemblages. Terebratalia is not strongly under-represented in death assemblages, despite its high destruction rate, because of large production of recently dead shells. Even with the biasing effect of differential durability, the good fidelity reported in previous live-dead studies can be enhanced by higher population turnover of numerically dominant taxa, leading to constant input of recently dead shells into death assemblages.