Ichnodiversity and ichnodisparity: significance and caveats



Ichnodiversity has been used as a proxy for environmental stress and stability in facies interpretations and to reconstruct evolutionary radiations and colonization histories in evolutionary palaeoecology. The three components of global diversity are exported from ecology and adapted for ichnology. Alpha ichnodiversity is used for palaeoenvironmental characterization, being assessed for individual facies. Beta ichnodiversity is commonly overlooked, although it may provide information about degree of similarity between ichnofaunas formed along environmental gradients. Gamma ichnodiversity may provide clues to detect ichnofossil provincialism. The concept of disparity may also prove to be significant in ichnological studies. Whereas ichnodiversity refers to ichnotaxonomic richness, ichnodisparity provides a measure of the variability of morphological plans in biogenic structures. Changes in global ichnodiversity do not necessarily parallel changes in ichnodisparity. For example, while the Cambrian explosion involved a dramatic increase in both, the Ordovician radiation essentially reflects an increase only in the former. Ichnodiversity and ichnodisparity should be used with caution because they are both affected by taphonomic processes. High diversity of superficial to shallow-tier trace fossils may result from enhanced preservation due a poorly developed mixed layer, rather than a true reflection of ecosystem performance, as shown by underexploited infaunal ecospace after biotic crises (e.g. end-Permian mass extinction).