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1 June 2012 Behavioral biology of trace fossils
Roy E. Plotnick
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The potential of the ichnofossil record for exploring the evolution of behavior has never been fully realized. Some of this is due to the nature of the trace fossil record itself. Equally responsible is the separation of ichnology from the relevant areas of modern behavioral biology. The two disciplines have virtually no concepts, methods, or literature in common. The study of animal behavior and its evolution is thus bereft of the rich data and insights of ichnologists.

One potential pathway forward is for ichnologists to adopt and adapt the movement ecology paradigm proposed several years ago by Ran Nathan and colleagues. This approach views movement as resulting from interactions of the organism's internal state, its movement abilities, and its sensory capabilities with each other and with the external environment. These interactions produce a movement path. The adoption of this paradigm would place trace fossil studies in a far wider common context for the study of movement, while providing the dimension of the evolution of movement behavior in deep time to neontological studies.

A second component of this integration would be for paleontologists to develop a taphonomy of behavior that places in a phylogenetic context the range of possible behaviors that organisms can carry out and assesses the potential of each of these behaviors in leaving a diagnostic trace. Parallel to other taphonomic concepts, this approach assesses the preservation potential of particular behaviors; behavioral fidelity is the extent to which trace fossils preserve these original behavioral signals.

The Paleontological Society
Roy E. Plotnick "Behavioral biology of trace fossils," Paleobiology 38(3), 459-473, (1 June 2012).
Accepted: 1 February 2012; Published: 1 June 2012
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