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Keywords:

  • Extrinsic factors;
  • intrinsic characters;
  • preservational biases;
  • taphonomic scoring;
  • taphonomy

Taphonomic analyses of modern Katharina tunicata and Mopalia muscosa valves (Mollusca, Polyplacophora) collected from San Juan Island, Washington, USA, demonstrate that preservation potential of chitons varies by species and locality. Damage levels observed in the valves reflect differences in extrinsic environmental conditions, but intrinsic characters affect response of the skeletal material to local processes. Although both are more likely to become fossils at the lower energy site, K. tunicata valves in poor condition are more likely to occur than poor-condition M. muscosa valves at either site. Mopalia muscosa valves are least likely to be preserved at the higher energy site. Katharina tunicata valves appear more resistant to destruction than M. muscosa valves, suggesting that the former are more likely to become fossilized. The preservation potential of the three types of valves (normally one head, six medials, and one tail per individual) differs for both species. Medials are more likely to be preserved than either terminal valve of K. tunicata or M. muscosa. Head valves are least likely to be preserved, but K. tunicata heads are less likely to be preserved than M. muscosa heads. The biases are not due to greater frequency of medials, because valves do not occur in the 3:1 ratio seen in living animals. Divergence from expected ratios and variation in taphonomic condition for all three valve types in modern environments agrees with observations in the fossil record. The rarity of fossil chitons may be due to biases against preservation rather than absence in ancient environments.