Taphonomic bias and time-averaging in tropical molluscan death assemblages

Differential shell half-lives in Great Barrier Reef sediment

Matthew A. Kosnik, Quan Hua, Darrell S. Kaufman, Raphael A. Wüst

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

65 Citations (Scopus)


Radiocarbon-calibrated amino acid racemization ages of 428 individually dated shells representing four molluscan taxa are used to quantify time-averaging and shell half-lives with increasing burial depth in the shallow-water carbonate lagoon of Rib Reef, central Great Barrier Reef, Australia. The top 20 cm of sediment contains a distinct, essentially modern assemblage. Shells recovered at depths from 25 to 125 cm are age-homogeneous and significantly older than the surface layer. Taxon age distributions within sedimentary layers indicate that the top 125 cm of lagoonal sediment is thoroughly mixed on a sub-century scale. The age distributions and shell half-lives of four taxa (Ethalia, Natica, Tellina, and Turbo) are found to be largely distinct. Shell half-lives do not coincide with any single morphological characteristic thought to infer greater durability, but they are strongly related to a combined durability score based on shell density, thickness, and shape. These results illustrate the importance of bioturbation in tropical sedimentary environments, indicate that age estimates in this depositional setting are sensitive to taxon choice, and quantify a taxon-dependent bias in shell longevity and death assemblage formation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)565-586
Number of pages22
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2009
Externally publishedYes

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