Abstract

The Shelf and Slope Experimental Taphonomy Initiative (SSETI) Program was established to measure taphonomic rates in a range of continental shelf and slope environments over a long period of time. For this report, mollusk shells were deployed for one and two years at seven different environments of deposition (EODs) along two onshore-offshore transects off Lee Stocking Island in the Bahamas. The experimental sites were located: in sand channels on the platform top (15 m) and the platform edge (33 m); on ledges down the wall (70–88 m); on the upper (183 m) and lower (210–226 m) talus slope below the wall; and on the crest (256–264 m) and in the trough (259–267 m) of large sand dunes. Shell condition was assessed using a range of taphonomic attributes including dissolution, abrasion, edge alteration, discoloration, and changes in shell weight.

After two years, taphonomic alteration was not particularly intense in any EOD. No species was particularly susceptible or resistant to taphonomic alteration. Taphonomic processes were unexpectedly complex. Effects of location, transect, water depth, and degree of exposure all had significant effects. On average, shells deployed in shallow sites were altered significantly from the controls more frequently than shells deployed at deeper sites. However, the number of significant interaction terms between time and the other main effects indicates a complex interaction between taphonomic processes and the local environment that, over the short term, defies any attempt at delineating taphofacies over a broader spatial area than a single deployment site. Some locations attained the same taphonomic signature in different ways making discrimination of taphonomic rules difficult. For example, deeper-water sites and shallow sites where burial rates were high yielded similar taphonomic signatures because shells were in the aphotic zone in both cases, and this limited the rate and range of taphonomic interactions. Taphonomic processes were strongly nonlinear in time for all taphonomic attributes in all species and all EODs. Nonlinear taphonomic rates hinder the interpretation of single-point-in-time studies in understanding the taphonomic process and buttress a commitment to long-term experiments.

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