Ichnology: Organism-Substrate Interactions in Space and Time

Like the book, Applications of Palaeontology: Techniques and Case Studies, which I reviewed in the last issue of this magazine, this book is not for the casual fossil collector. Rather it is for the student, academic, oil industry professional or the more dedicated amateur collector.

Having said that, I was never much interested in trace fossils until I walked along the coast from Staithes to Runswick Bay, many years ago. On that extensive fossil collecting trip, I came across extensive networks of Rhizocorallium (fossil moulds of crustacean burrows), many of them showing scratch marks made by the animals’ claws as they created their living spaces in ancient seas. The image of the way the marks covered the entire surfaces of huge boulders under the Jurassic cliffs in intricate and beautiful patterns is one that, to me, is unforgettable. And, this book will allow you to go from the aesthetic to the academic in your understanding of these remarkable but extremely common fossils.

Obviously, ichnology is the study of the traces of animals, rather than their bodies. These include burrows, trackways and borings that have been created in the substrate by the behaviour of animals. The authors (both academics from the University of Saskatchewan in Canada) apply this discipline to palaeobiology, stratigraphy and sedimentology, and emphasise (using examples from the Cambrian to the recent) the importance of understanding that ecology has a significant control on the distribution of benthic (that is, living on or in the seafloor) animals and also the way that burrowing organisms can

change their environment through their behaviour.
The book is beautifully illustrated throughout with colour photographs and graphics. And, in this way, there is no doubt that these can be used for identification purposes, but that is not really the point of the book. Therefore, interspersed in the text are text boxes that provide details of examples of what is being discussed.

As I say, this is not for the faint-hearted. However, the illustrations alone make for an interesting read and if, like me, you suddenly notice the wonderful intricacy of the work of ancient benthic creatures, you may well be interested in this fascinating book.

Ichnology: Organism-Substrate Interactions in Space and Time by Luis Buatois and M Gabriela Mángano, Cambridge University Press Cambridge (2011). 358 pp., hardback, ISBN: 978-0-521-85555-6