Community persistence and the pattern of community variability over time: a test using fossil assemblages from four marine transgressions in the Breathitt Formation (Middle Pennsylvanian) of Eastern Kentucky

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Virginia Tech


Four intervals of Middle Pennsylvanian marine strata in the Breathitt Formation of eastern Kentucky, the Elkins Fork, Kendrick, Magoffin, and Stoney Fork, were measured, sampled for fossils, and described. Each marine interval was shown to be the product of a single episode of transgression and regression that led to the establishment of a variety of marine habitats in the central Appalachian basin. These habitats included marginal marine, nearshore normal marine, nearshore stressed, offshore normal marine, and offshore dysaerobic environments. Fossil collections were made and species abundance distributions were obtained for each paleontological sample. Multivariate statistical analyses such as cluster analysis and principle components analysis were used to classify fossil assemblages sampled into a variety of paleocommunity types, each associated with a particular lithological facies. Paleocommunity types that were found to occur in more than one of the four marine intervals were resampled at selected localities, with replicate samples taken at each locality. These additional samples were used to test for the presence of the same statistically defmed paleocommunity at different localities within the same marine units and to test for the recurrence of statistically defmed paleocommunities between marine units. Results of the analyses suggest that recurrence of similar fossil assemblages (paleocommunity types) is common in the Breathitt marine units whenever there is recurrence of comparable marine facies. However, recurrence of the same statistically defined paleocommunity is rare, with significant variation in the abundances of member species appearing each time a particular paleocommunity type recurs. This suggests that the recurrence of distinct fossil assemblages over intervals of geologic time can be explained by the repeated reinvasion of suitable habitats by the individual members of a persistent species pool, without recourse to ecological mechanisms needed for preserving or perpetuating particular community structures.



fossil assemblages, marine strata