Temperate bioerosion: ichnodiversity and biodiversity from intertidal to bathyal depths (Azores)


Corresponding author: M. Wisshak. Tel.: +49 4421 9475202; fax: +49 4421 9475222; e-mail: max.wisshak@senckenberg.de


In the temperate Azores carbonate factory, a substantial fraction of the calcareous skeletal components is recycled by a remarkable biodiversity of biota producing bioerosion traces (incipient trace fossils). To study this biodiversity, experimental carbonate substrates were exposed to colonisation by epilithic and endolithic organisms along a bathymetrical gradient from 0 to 500 m depth, during 1 and 2 years of exposure. The overall bioerosion ichnodiversity is very high and comprises 56 ichnotaxa and ichnoforms attributed to cyanobacteria, chlorophytes, fungi, other micro-chemotrophs, macroborers, grazers and epilithic attachment scars. In the intertidal, hydrodynamic force, partial emersion and strong temperature fluctuations lead to the lowest ichnospecies richness. This contrasts with the highest ichnodiversity found at 15 m under the most favourable environmental conditions. Towards aphotic depths, a gradual depletion in ichnodiversity is observed, most probably because of the restricted light availability and a slowdown in ichnocoenosis development. Analysis of similarity (ANOSIM), in combination with non-metrical multidimensional scaling (NMDS), was used to highlight variability in the relative abundance of traces among depths, substrate orientations and exposure times. Ichnodiversity and abundance of traces decrease significantly with depth and are higher on up-facing versus down-facing substrates, whereas differences between years were not as pronounced. This study demonstrates that statistical methods of biodiversity analysis are not per se restricted to biotaxa but may well be applied also to ichnotaxa. In the analysis of trace fossil assemblages, this approach supports the recognition of diversity patterns and their relation to environmental gradients.