Between a rock and a hard place: arthropod trackways and ichnotaxonomy





Nicholas J. Minter [], Simon J. Braddy [], and Robert B. Davis [] Department of Earth Sciences, University of Bristol, Wills Memorial Building, Queen's Road, Bristol BS8 1RJ, UK; Robert B. Davis, Current address, Department of Biology, University of York, York YO10 5YW, UK; manuscript received on 13/12/2006; manuscript accepted on 4/6/2007.


Several challenges exist in ichnotaxonomy: overcoming the perceived distinction between invertebrate and vertebrate ichnotaxonomy, standardizing terminology, rationalizing the plethora of ichnotaxa already in existence, and developing principles for diagnosing new ichnotaxa. Ichnotaxa should be based on morphology, and this morphology incorporates three key components; the behaviour expressed, the producer, and the substrate. Invertebrate and vertebrate ichnotaxa can both be accommodated within this framework, but they differ in the relative contributions of these components. The key to justifying the synonymy of existing ichnotaxa is the recognition of intergrading specimens. However, this is only the case for minor morphological variants (i.e. those representing minor differences in behaviour, such as gait parameters or stance; or minor differences in preservation, such as undertrack fallout or slight differences in substrate conditions). Intergrading specimens should not be used to justify synonymy between major morphological variants (i.e. those representing major behavioural differences, defined herein as ethological categories; or major differences in preservation, such as formation in soup, soft and firmgrounds), and such specimens should be denoted as hybrids (e.g. Cruziana×Rusophycus). New ichnotaxa should ideally be based on observations of large samples of material, so that recurrence is demonstrable, and morphological continuums, or subset relationships, representing minor morphological variation, are identified. Ichnotaxa may only be erected on the basis of limited material if they truly represent a unique morphology. These principles have been developed with arthropod trackways in mind, but it is hoped that they will be of more general utility.