Rates of Burial and Disturbance of Experimentally-Deployed Molluscs: Implications for Preservation Potential
Rates of burial and transport of molluscan remains are essentially unknown for deeper continental shelf and slope environments, especially over periods of years. An understanding of the rates of taphonomic loss are critical to paleoecological analyses and to paleoenvironmental studies in general. The post-depositional history of organic remains is highly dependent on the length of time the material remains at or near the sediment/water interface. In order to measure these rates, 100 gastropod and bivalve shells were scattered over a marked area of sea bottom at 21 sites in seven environments of deposition (EOD's) in the Gulf of Mexico and at five EOD's on the Bahamas platform edge. A total of over 2600 shells were deployed. Each site was thoroughly documented with video photography. After one year in the Bahamas and after two years in both the Gulf of Mexico and Bahamas, these sites were re-photographed and video-taped to measure rates of burial and movement of shells. Shell condition (e.g., articulation, encrustation, and color loss) for those shells that remained exposed was also determined. Shells deployed in Gulf of Mexico petroleum seep sites, on the open continental shelf, and on the continental slope experienced high rates of burial (0.5-3.0 cm) within two years. Shells at these sites generally were not transported or disturbed, and disarticulation rates were low. In the Bahamas, shells on the platform shelf were completely buried within one year. On the steep platform edge from 70 to 300 m, shells on hardground ledges remained exposed, whereas shells in carbonate sands were buried by up to 3.5 cm of sediment. Transport was more common on the steep slopes of the platform edge. Net sedimentation rates for the outer continental shelf and slope of 0.01-0.06 cm yr-1 are well below our observed burial rates of 31 cm yr (super -1) . Thus, burial rate may be somewhat independent of sedimentation rate due to local reworking of sediments by storms at shallower depths and mechanisms such as deep bottom currents or bioturbation at deeper sites. Therefore, the potential for fossil preservation in offshore areas with low sedimentation rates may be much greater than previously assumed.