Infaunal communities and tiering in Early Palaeozoic nearshore clastic environments: trace-fossil evidence from the Cambro-Ordovician of New South Wales



Understanding of the palaeoecology of Early Palaeozoic shallow-marine communities in sandy habitats is incomplete. Reasons for this include the poor preservation of body fossils and the dominance of Skolithos piperock in sandstones of that age. Cambrian and Ordovician deposits preserving diverse nearshore trace-fossil assemblages are therefore of critical importance for assessing the early evolution of marine ecosystems. The basal part of the Cambro-Ordovician Bynguano Formation of the Mootwingee area (New South Wales, Australia) is a series of interbedded sandstones and mudstones, which were deposited under nearshore conditions. These strata provide an early example of the Arenicolites ichnofacies. Two ichnocoenoses are distinguished in the sandstones of this unit. A ‘predepositional’ ichnocoenosis, which reflects the benthic community prior to episodes of sand deposition, includes dense aggregations of Rusophycus with rare Planolites. The ‘postdepositional’ ichnocoenosis is more diverse and includes Thalassinoides, Arenicolites (various types), Monocraterion, Skolithos, Trichichnus, and epichnial grooves. The tiered structure developed in this ichnocoenosis is preserved as a ‘frozen tiered profile’ and is characterised by a Thalassinoides tier, 10–30 cm in depth, which is cross-cut by Skolithos and Arenicolitesin the middle tier, and by Arenicolites and Trichichnusin the shallowest tier. The pattern of tiering indicates that a complex ecosystem of opportunistic organisms, capable of exploiting shifting substrates, had evolved by the earliest Ordovician. □Predepositional, postdepositional frozen tier profile, ichnocoenosis, nearshore clastics, RUSOPHYCUS, Cambro-Ordovician, Bynguano Formation, Mootwingee, New South Wales.