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Keywords:

  • Encrustation;
  • epigrowth;
  • taphonomy;
  • sea urchins;
  • bryozoans;
  • serpulids;
  • barnacles;
  • palaeoecology;
  • Miocene;
  • Adriatic

A comparison of fossil (Echitwlampas sp. from the Lower Miocene Zogelsdorf Formation, Austria) and Recent (Schizaster canaliferus from the northern Adriatic Sea) irregular sea-urchin tests shows that, upon their death, burrowing echinoids can serve as a substrate for a dense epigrowth. Size, shape, stable orientation, and surface residence-time were identified as key factors governing encrustation. The encrusters on fossil Echinolampas were bryozoans, serpulid polychaetes, barnacles, and coralline algae, while the recent material was initially encrusted by serpulids and hydrozoan colonies, and ultimately covered by the full range of sessile, hemi-sessile, and vagile species characterizing the benthic community in the Adriatic. In Echinolampas, epigrowth was more abundant on the lower (oral) surface; this specific distribution was echoed in S. canaliferus, where epigrowth started on the bottom side and grew upward. This indicates that the tests have a stable orientation and a surface residence-time long enough to allow intense encrustation. A taphonomic model is developed, and the role of encrustation on such special substrates for overall community structure is discussed. The Recent/fossil comparison provides new insights for both fields of study: the recent material indicates the role of soft-bodied faunas as well as the complexity of small-scaled ecological processes; the fossil material reflects many of the above phenomena and adds important taphonomic details on the fate of encrusted biogenic structures and on encruster growth patterns and distributions.