A new approach for investigating spatial relationships of ichnofossils: a case study of Ediacaran-Cambrian animal traces
Trace fossils record foraging behaviors, the search for resources in patchy environments, of animals in the rock record. Quantification of the strength, density, and nature of foraging behaviors enables the investigation of how these may have changed through time. Here, we present a novel approach to explore such patterns using spatial point process analyses to quantify the scale and strength of ichnofossil spatial distributions on horizontal bedding planes. To demonstrate the utility of this approach, we use two samples from the terminal Ediacaran Shibantan Member in South China (between 551 and 543 Ma) and the early Cambrian Nagaur Sandstone in northwestern India (between 539 and 509 Ma). We find that ichnotaxa on both surfaces exhibited significant nonhomogeneous lateral patterns, with distinct levels of heterogeneity exhibited by different types of trace fossils. In the Shibantan, two ichnotaxa show evidence for mutual positive aggregation over a shared resource, suggesting the ability to focus on optimal resource areas. Trace fossils from the Nagaur Sandstone exhibit more sophisticated foraging behavior, with greater niche differentiation. Critically, mark correlation functions highlight significant spatial autocorrelation of trace fossil orientations, demonstrating the greater ability of these Cambrian tracemakers to focus on optimal patches. Despite potential limitations, these analyses hint at changes in the development and optimization of foraging at the Ediacaran/Cambrian transition and highlight the potential of spatial point process analysis to tease apart subtle differences in behavior in the trace fossil record.