Isolated horizons of Thalassinoides and Gyrolithes burrows appear in exclusive association with gravity-flow deposits within sequences of nonbioturbated hernipelagic sedimentary rocks of the Miocene Monterey Formation of California and the Oligocene-Miocene San Gregorio Formation of Baja California. These burrowed levels are not associated with other ichnogenera such as Zoophycos and Chondrites. We infer a causal relation between gravity flow deposition and the presence of Thalassinoides and Gyrolithes and suggest that these gravity flows entrained thalassinidean crustacea. Upon deposition in oxygen-deficient environments, the surviving borrowers reworked substantial quantities of aminated, commonly organic-rich sediments in an environment from which they were previously excluded. The persistence of or the ecologically rapid return to oxygen-depleted conditions limited the survival time and ecological complexity of the transported infaunal dwellers and rendered them doomed pioneers. Ecological and physiological data support this hypothesis: thalassinidean crustacea have the capability to endure turbulent transport and survive up to 5-7 days of anoxia without being severely limited in their biological activities.
The accurate recognition of doomed pioneer trace-fossil assemblages as ephemeral ecological phenomena in otherwise laminated successions may contribute to a better understanding and interpretation of paleo-oxygen levels and basin history.