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Conservation & Stratigraphic Palaeobiology: Deep-time to Recent European Geosciences Union General Assembly 2015, Vienna, Austria 14 April 2015

Article from: Newsletter No. 90
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This Symposium brought together palaeontologists and marine biologists interested in exchanging new concepts and ideas in the fields of stratigraphic palaeobiology and conservation palaeobiology, with contributions on taphonomy, palaeobiogeography and macroevolution.  It was organized by a cohort of European palaeobiologists, including James Nebelsick (University of Tübingen, Germany), Paolo Albano and Martin Zuschin (University of Vienna, Austria), Adam Tomašových (Slovak Academy of Sciences, Slovakia), Wolfgang Kiessling (University of Erlangen, Germany), Andrzej Kaim (Polish Academy of Sciences, Poland) and Silvia Danise (Plymouth University, UK, and University of Georgia, USA).  Comprising eleven oral presentations and fifteen posters, the Symposium was attended by a large number of scientists, an excellent result for a palaeontological session held at the EGU General Assembly, so much so that the Division on Stratigraphy, Sedimentology and Palaeontology have asked the organizers to convene it again next year.

After an introduction given by James Nebelsick, the Symposium started with three talks focusing on the integration of sequence stratigraphy and palaeobiology in understanding the distribution of fossils in time and space.  Steven Holland (University of Georgia, USA), funded by the Palaeontological Association to attend the meeting, gave a keynote on the stratigraphic palaeobiology of mass extinctions.  He focused on the stratigraphic distribution of fossils across extinction events and, using numerical models and field-study examples, showed how the last occurrence of fossils does not generally indicate the time of extinction but is instead controlled by stratigraphic architecture (e.g. the presence of subaerial unconformities, flooding surfaces, surfaces of forced regression and condensed horizons).  He concluded that many interpretations on the tempo of extinction based on stratigraphic patterns of last occurrences need to be re‑interpreted in light of the sequence stratigraphic record.  The second speaker, Stefano Dominici (University of Florence, Italy), presented a study on the stratigraphic distribution of large marine vertebrates and shell beds in the Pliocene of Tuscany.  Integrating facies analysis and stratigraphy, palaeogeography, and quantitative palaeoecological data, Dominici and co-authors concluded that the more abundant and diverse accumulations of large vertebrates took place in settings under the influence of coastal upwelling, and compared the Pliocene of Tuscany to the modern Ligurian Sea that sustains a rich and diverse cetacean population.  Daniele Scarponi (University of Bologna, Italy) showed how the concepts of Stratigraphic Palaeobiology can be applied to implement the definition of Global Boundary Stratotype Section and Points (GSSPs), presenting a study on a candidate GSSP section for the Late Pleistocene in the Taranto Area (Italy).

Uwe Balthasar (Plymouth University, UK) discussed the still poorly-understood influence of seawater composition on the evolution of the calcareous skeleton of marine invertebrates.  Using data from CaCO3 precipitation experiments, he proposed a new model to explain the increase of aragonite over calcite skeletal composition in calcifying organisms over the course of the Phanerozoic.  Rafal Nawrot (University of Vienna, Austria) then compared body-size patterns of modern and Pliocene Mediterranean bivalves with those of the present day Red Sea, to test the hypothesis that invasion of Red Sea taxa following the opening of the Suez Canal reflects the presence of an empty ecological space in the Mediterranean, left following decimation of warm-water fauna during the Late Pliocene–Early Pleistocene climatic cooling.  He found that the similarity between Pliocene and modern Red Sea bivalve size-distributions, completely different from those of modern day Mediterranean bivalves that are characterized by smaller sizes, could explain the successful migration of tropical species.

The second part of the Symposium focused on taphonomy and conservation palaeobiology.  Breandán MacGabhann (Edge Hill University, UK) analysed the taphonomy of fossil eldonids, a Cambrian to Devonian clade of non-mineralized asymmetric discoidal basal or stem deuterostomes, mostly preserved as siliciclastic moulds and casts, and discussed their utility in reconstructing ambient conditions at the time of fossilization, and assessing the interaction between environmental change and the fossil record.  Mathias Harzhauser (Natural History Museum Vienna, Austria) showed how the use of high-resolution digital surface models can enhance our understanding of ecological and taphonomic pathways during the formation of multiphase time-averaged shell beds.  Harzhauser and co-authors applied this pioneering technique to an Early Miocene oyster reef, a shell accumulation covering an area of 400 m2 with thousands of specimens.

Adam Tomašových (Slovak Academy of Sciences, Slovakia) proposed a new model to assess how age-frequency distributions of shell beds, known to capture information on the elapsed time since death of individuals on the landscape or seabed, can provide decadal- to millennial-scale windows into the processes that lead to skeletal production, disintegration and burial.  Tomašových and co‑authors applied this new model to the deposit-feeding bivalve Nuculana taphria from the southern Californian continental shelf, and found that an onshore–offshore gradient in time averaging is dominated by a gradient in the timing of production, corresponding to the tracking of shallow-water habitats during a sea-level rise.  Model estimates of the timing of past production are in good agreement with an independent sea-level curve.

Paolo Albano (University of Vienna, Austria) opened the section of the Symposium dedicated to conservation palaeobiology with a talk on the impact of oil platforms on benthic assemblages in the Persian (Arabian) Gulf, a semi-enclosed basin that currently hosts the highest concentration of infrastructures for oil and gas extraction in the world.  He showed how the comparison between death assemblages (which represent archives of species composition and community states over time and are inert to recent changes) and living assemblages can be used to reconstruct the degree of recent, anthropogenic, community disturbances.  Ivo Gallmetzer (University of Vienna, Austria) then presented a study on the ecological changes of molluscan communities in the northern Adriatic Sea during the last 500 to 1,500 years, with the aim of clarifying the timing of major ecological changes in the past and defining pristine benthic communities as references for future conservation and management efforts.  The northern Adriatic Sea, with its densely populated shoreline, is among the most degraded of marine ecosystems worldwide and is therefore particularly suited to study ecosystem modification under anthropogenic pressure.

Mairi Best (Ocean Observing Consultant, Canada) closed the Symposium with a talk on deep sea taphonomy in gas hydrate environments, showing an example from the Barkley Canyon, Canada.  She showed data from ongoing observations of experimentally-deployed specimens (fresh shells and cellulose) using a remotely controlled crawler with camera and sensors, made with the aim of elucidating the formation and evolution of gas hydrate deposits, their distribution through time, and the ecological and taphonomic feedbacks that they generate.

Author Information

Silvia Danise - Plymouth University and University of Georgia

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