Abstract

Our quantitative understanding of the temporal resolution of the fossil record is largely based on numerical dating of Holocene bivalves. However, for paleontologically important taxa with less-robust skeletons, no quantitative estimate of time-averaging exists. Here, we compare time-averaging in sympatric accumulations of the echinoid Leodia sexiesperforata and the bivalve Tucetona pectinata on a shallow carbonate platform of San Salvador Island, Bahamas. Using graphite-target and carbonate-target accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS) radiocarbon methods, we dated 30 echinoid tests and 30 mollusk valves collected from surficial sediments at a single site. All echinoid tests yielded post-bomb (taking into account radiocarbon from nuclear weapons testing) ages, and the estimated time-averaging (interquartile age range) is at most 2 yr. In contrast, sympatric mollusk valves spanned 4000 yr with an estimated time-averaging of 1830 yr. This three-orders-of-magnitude difference in the extent of time-averaging quantifies the taphonomic expectation that echinoid tests should degrade more rapidly and experience less time-averaging when compared to more durable mollusk shells. When preserved, fossil echinoids are likely to indicate a more finely resolved fossil record than skeletally robust organisms such as mollusks, and may provide a fundamentally distinct class of paleontological data, potentially adequate for investigating biological and physical processes that operate at subdecadal time scales. Immensely disparate time-averaging of sympatric mollusks and echinoids indicates that, at broader phylogenetic scales, differences in intrinsic skeletal durability may be the main determinant of the temporal resolution of fossil assemblages.

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