The Application of Ichnology to Palaeoenvironmental and Stratigraphic Analysis

Robert B. MacNaughton
Geological Survey of Canada 3303-33rd Street NW, Calgary, Alberta, T2L 2A7, Canada

Edited by D. McIlroy. Geological Society Special Publication 228, 2004. The Geological Society Publishing House, United Kingdom ISBN 1-86239-154-8 US $79.00, hardcover, 496 p.

1 Since the 1960s, ichnology– the study of trace fossils– has grown impressively, to the point where it has its own journal, sub-disciplines, and meetings. The published proceedings of some of those meetings, notably the seminal volume Trace Fossils (Crimes and Harper 1970), have played no small role in advancing the discipline. The Application of Ichnology to Palaeoenvironmental and Stratigraphic Analysis publishes papers presented at the Geological Society's 2003 Lyell Meeting. As the title indicates, the nineteen contributions are mainly concerned with the use of trace fossils in stratigraphy or palaeoenvironmental interpretation. The resulting volume is a worthwhile contribution to the ichnological literature, but one that ultimately aims higher than it reaches.

2 An interesting feature of the book is that it is split between case studies and review articles, with case studies accounting for slightly more than half the contributions. The review articles are useful– many could be assigned as readings in advanced undergraduate or graduate courses– but the coverage of subjects is not especially consistent in emphasis or approach. For example, Buatois and Mángano provide a thorough, thought-provoking overview of the ichnology of freshwater environments, in which they emphasize facies analysis and sequence stratigraphy. Palaeosols are covered by Genise and coauthors, who focus on ichnofabric analysis. Deep-marine ichnology is ably reviewed by Uchman, but here the focus is on the evolution of deep-marine trace fossils. Shallow-marine environments are covered in a paper by Pemberton and coauthors, who are concerned with the role of trace fossils in delineating stratigraphic surfaces. Four depositional settings, four distinct emphases. This is no criticism of the individual papers, but it does re-emphasize that this is a collection of conference papers, not a textbook. A few review papers step away from the focus on depositional environments. These include treatments of early Palaeozoic ichnofabrics, the trace-fossil record of mass extinctions, climatic controls on trace-fossil distribution, and the stratigraphic ranges of borings.

3 The case studies are similarly varied in what they address. Bann and coauthors contribute two detailed papers that integrate ichnology with sedimentology to characterize and distinguish palaeoenvironments (estuarine vs. offshore-marine; non-deltaic shoreface vs. subaqueous delta). Other sedimentology focussed papers deal with trace fossils in Triassic lacustrine deltas, Jurassic tide-dominated deltas, and Carboniferous tidal settings. Baldwin and coauthors incorporate palynology into a palaeoecological study of the Cambrian Bright Angel Shale, and Manning contributes an interesting experimental paper on the production of vertebrate tracks. The only paper with a strong ichnotaxonomic bent is by Genise, who discusses the classification and stratigraphic distribution of traces produced by coleopterans, ants, and termites.

4 Essentially, the volume deals only with siliciclastic deposits and there are no free-standing papers on carbonate-dominated environments. A number of papers are based on ichnofabric analysis, an approach to documenting the relative chronology and intensity of infaunal tiering that is enjoying a vogue among ichnologists, but papers that maintain the traditional ichnological emphasis on Seilacherian ichnofacies are also represented.

5 The volume is sturdily bound and lies agreeably flat when opened. The typeface is readable, the paper of good quality, and the index serviceable. Some of the illustrations are excellent. However, a number of photographs are poorly focused, lighted, or reproduced. In a number of core photographs, it is virtually impossible to make out sedimentary textures or burrows, even when the photographs are annotated with arrows. Many diagrams appear to have been prepared for an 8.5" x 11" (or A4) publication format and are not served well by the reduction required for the production of this book.

6 Although this book contains interesting case studies and useful reviews, uneven coverage of topics may keep it from becoming a standard reference work. Students or professionals seeking a concise introduction to ichnology should probably start with the textbook by Bromley (1996). Working ichnologists will probably want to purchase a personal copy but should view a library copy first to ensure that topic coverage matches their needs and interests.


Bromley, R.G., 1996, Trace fossils: biology taphonomy and applications (2nd ed.): Chapman and Hall, London, 361 p.

Crimes, T.P., and Harper, J.C., eds., 1970, Trace fossils: Seel House Press, Liverpool, 547 p.