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ABSTRACT

The tube-building polychaete Lanice conchilega forms intertidal mounds in association with macroalgae. This assemblage produces structures that can record tidal and seasonal cycles in the stratigraphic record. They mark low-tide levels because the assemblage occurs below neap low tide and many of the structures form when water drains off the assemblage.

Mounds are created by disturbance of the sediment surface around aggregations of the assemblage and accumulation of sediments within the aggregations. The initial aggregations may be relict patches of adult worms, new clumps of juveniles or both. Juvenile worms and drift algae easily settle and survive in high-density patches, whereas predators and waves more readily disturb low-density patches. Algae and tubes extend through accumulated sediment and create a new, higher surface. Through this interactive process the high-density patches increase height rapidly while the low-density patches erode. Regardless of density, when the initial distribution is regular the surface remains flat, rising evenly or eroding evenly. Accumulation and erosion increases during spring tides and decreases during neap tides.

Mound development also follows a seasonal pattern. The recruitment of juvenile worms in spring facilitates algal settlement and initiates mound buildup. The rate of tube-building and algal growth increases in early summer as the erosive forces of storms decline. This leads to the greatest development of mounds in late summer just before the macroalgae begin to die. The loss of algae coincides with autumnal storms, and causes catastrophic erosion of the mounds into relict patches of dormant tube-worms. Patches of tubes that survive the winter enhance spring recruitment and renewal of mound development.

The shape of the mounds is often obscured during burial and preservation. Because of this, it may be difficult to distinguish the original form of ancient mounds without contemporaneous cementing organisms. But cycles of deposition and erosion are recorded in Lanice tubes and other biogenic structures. These structures can be used in conjunction with physical structures to define tidal height, seasonality or current regime. In general however, the presence of tube aggregations per se is not diagnostic of a specific hydraulic environment.