Abstract

The establishment of permanent animal communities on land was a defining event in the history of evolution, and one for which the ichnofauna and facies of the Tumblagooda Sandstone of Western Australia have been considered an archetypal case study. However, terrestrialization can only be understood from the rock record with conclusive sedimentological evidence for non-marine deposition, and original fieldwork on the formation shows that a marine influence was pervasive throughout all trace fossil-bearing strata. Four distinct facies associations are described, deposited in fluvial, tidal and estuarine settings. Here we explain the controversies surrounding the age and depositional environment of the Tumblagooda Sandstone, many of which have arisen due to the challenges in distinguishing marine from non-marine depositional settings in lower Palaeozoic successions. We clarify the terminological inconsistency that has hindered such determination, and demonstrate how palaeoenvironmental explanations can be expanded out from unambiguously indicative sedimentary structures. The Tumblagooda Sandstone provides a unique insight into an early Palaeozoic ichnofauna that was strongly partitioned by patchy resource distribution in a littoral setting. The influence of outcrop style and quality is accounted for to contextualize this ichnofauna, revealing six distinct low-disparity groups of trace fossil associations, each related to a different sub-environment within the high-ichnodisparity broad depositional setting. The formation is compared with contemporaneous ichnofaunas to examine its continued significance to understanding the terrestrialization process. Despite not recording permanent non-marine communities, the Tumblagooda Sandstone provides a detailed picture of the realm left behind by the first invertebrate pioneers of terrestrialization.

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