Ichnology may be defined as the overall study of traces made by organisms, including their description, classification, and interpretation (Simpson, 1975). In a practical sense, however, ichnology is the study of organism- substrate interrelationships (Howard and Frey, 1975). Any given trace is at least a partial record both of the activities of the particular organism and the kind of substrate on or in which it moved. In turn, these activities, as well as local substrate characteristics, may be influenced by contemporary environmental factors. Ichnology thus embraces a complex of processes, conditions, responses, and adaptations, and it draws expertise from a variety of disciplines within geology and biology.
In this chapter we will be concerned primarily with the activities (behavior) of trace-making organisms and their immediate ecological or environmental implications. First, however, we must establish a basic framework.
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The advancement of ichnological research has left in its wake a considerable volume of literature that contains many important concepts and the results of some excellent field studies. These notes try to consolidate the most salient topics of the discipline and emphasize the application of ichnological concepts and data to geological problems. In many respects, a detailed knowledge of trace fossil concepts is a matter of experience rather than education. Trace fossils, unlike other fossils, are part of the rock and, thus, they are difficult to collect and curate. As a result, interested geologists must go to the field and see a lot of trace fossils in a variety of different views, preserved under a variety of different conditions, to build a working expertise on such structures. This short course is designed to suit the needs of a diversified audience, which is made up of geologists from both academic and industrial institutions. Although the primary concern is to introduce the subject to those having little background in ichnology, the hope is to also update those geologists who already use trace fossil information in their investigations.