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Linking invertebrate burrow distributions (neoichnology) to physicochemical stresses on a sandy tidal flat: implications for the rock record



Invertebrate burrow distributions (neoichnology) across a modern tidal flat are presented as an analogue for interpreting the ichnology of palaeo-tidal-flat successions. Burrow distributions are linked to physical and chemical (physicochemical) stresses to establish the main controls on the distribution of biosedimentary structures. Across the tidal flat, there is clear heterogeneity in both the diversity of traces and the intensity of burrowing. This heterogeneity reflects a myriad of physicochemical stresses, with the sedimentation rate dominating burrow distributions. Across all substrates, the total area occupied by organisms rarely exceeds 3% of the tidal-flat surface, and is commonly <1%; this equates to a bioturbation index value of one. To reach bioturbation index values of two to six, sediments must be available to biogenic reworking and/or recolonization. With an increasing sedimentation rate, substrates are rapidly buried and re-exposed, which limits the time when a substrate is available to colonization. For palaeo-ichnological studies, this research presents several key results. (i) Burrow cross-cutting relationships in tidal-flat successions commonly reflect natural heterogeneities in the areal distribution of infaunal communities, rather than infaunal tiering. (ii) Ichnofabric analysis of palaeo-tidal flats with a high sedimentation rate would yield fabrics that reflect heterogeneities in the areal distribution of infaunal communities rather than variability in the physicochemical stresses of the environment. (iii) The composite trace-fossil assemblage of tidal flats cannot be attributed to a single ichnofacies, but instead comprises elements typical of multiple ichnofacies. (iv) The main controls on trace assemblages across tidal flats in fully marine settings are sedimentological and include the sedimentation rate and, to a lesser extent, grain size.