Taphonomy and ichnology of cephalopod shells in a Maastrichtian chalk from Western Australia



The post-mortem history of a prolific Maastrichtian ammonite and nautiloid fauna preserved as phosphatic steinkerns in chalk of the upper Miria Formation of Western Australia is described. Sediment infilling of phragmocones, required for their fossilisation, was accomplished by means of perforations in the shell wall induced by the activity of abundant endoliths. These include borings ascribed to clionid sponges (Entobia), thallophytes, polychaete worms (including Caulostrepis and probable Maeandropolydora), phoronids (Talpina and Gnathichnus) and others of conjectural origin. Sediment infilling by this mechanism is considered to be more applicable to the taphonomy of phragmocones in general than sediment entry through the siphuncle and to be indicative of low sedimentation rates for the hosting strata. Nonheteromorph ammonites, and the nautiloid Cimomia, are preserved almost exclusively as phragmocones in the upper Miria Formation, and are numerically subordinate to the heteromorph Eubaculites which, together with Glyptoxoceras, is preserved predominantly as body chambers. This phragmocone/body chamber preservational contrast is attributed to the influence of shell shape on pre-burial mechanical abrasion. The apparent dominance of Eubaculites is considered to be largely a preservational artifact and ascribed to the ease with which body chambers were infilled, and thereby favoured for steinkern formation, relative to phragmocones. Phragmocones, or parts thereof. not filled with sediment were eliminated from the fossil record by diagenetic aragonite dissolution. Many ammonites with open umbilici have the early whorls missing. This we attribute to the trapping of sediment in the umbilicus prior to burial, preventing endolith attack whereby the early whorls avoided a sediment infilling. However, the protected inner whorls of involute ammonites and Cimomia, which have closed umbilici, and the inner whorls of evolute ammonites where a cemented umbilical plug supported the mouldic cavity left by shell dissolution, were preserved and were commonly infilled with calcite spar later in diagenesis. The dearth of cephalopod fossils in chalk underlying the upper Miria Formation is ascribed to diagenesis in which aragonite dissolution was not preceded by cementation.