The Past as a Key to the Present

Taphonomy and Paleoecology of the Urvina Bay Uplift
  • David L. Malmquist
Part of the Topics in Geobiology book series (TGBI, volume 8)


Taphonomy is the study of the processes of preservation and how they affect information in the fossil record (Behrensmeyer and Kidwell, 1985). A common tactic in taphonomic research is comparison of living communities and fossil assemblages in order to measure the information that taphonomic processes remove from a living community as it passes into an assemblage of fossil remains (Johnson, 1960, 1962, 1965; Lawrence, 1968; Warme, 1969; Warme et al., 1976; Lasker, 1976; Peterson, 1976, 1977; Schopf, 1978; Koch and Sohl, 1983; Staff et al., 1986; Fürsich and Flessa, 1987). Understanding this information loss is necessary in order to “strip away the taphonomic overprint” when using fossil remains to reconstruct a once-living community (Lawrence, 1968).

Inherent in many living/fossil comparisons is the assumption that biases arise only from taphonomic processes acting on the fossil assemblage, and that the living community is bias-free, in essence a “control group” that is, after death, subjected to the vagaries of preservation and sampling. Taphonomists have paid less attention to the potential biases affecting characterization of the living community than to those affecting the dead assemblage.

In this chapter, I use an uplifted, exquisitely preserved assemblage of invertebrate skeletal remains at Urvina Bay to quantify the degree and direction of the biases affecting characterization of the living “control” group. Comparison of the uplifted and living communities at Urvina Bay demonstrates that 1) in cases of exceptional fossil preservation and accessibility, the fossil assemblage gives a more accurate picture of the original living community than does a living control group and 2) paleoecologists must be aware of potential bias in living analogs as well as in fossil assemblages.


Hermit Crab Skeletal Remains Fossil Assemblage Subaerial Exposure Living Community 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1991

Authors and Affiliations

  • David L. Malmquist
    • 1
  1. 1.Earth Sciences Board of StudiesUniversity of California-Santa CruzSanta CruzUSA

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