Abstract

Previous comparative taphonomic studies have convincingly demonstrated that the taphonomic state of crinoid fossils is controlled largely by paleoenvironmental processes and constructional morphology. While taphonomic variability among depositional facies has a long history of investigation, the degree to which preservational heterogeneity is controlled by crinoid morphology has only recently been addressed and only at relatively coarse levels. Most studies to date have focused on taphonomic variability at the subclass or ordinal level, with little documentation of lower level taphonomic variation within a single crinoid subclass. A remarkably diverse, abundant, and well-preserved crinoid fauna, recovered from a single mudstone interval within the Upper Pennsylvanian (Missourian) Barnsdall Formation in northeastern Oklahoma, midcontinent North America, provides a unique opportunity to examine taphonomic trends among poteriocrine cladid crinoids at refined taxonomic levels. Genus-level variations in specimen completeness, axis of compaction, arm position, and features attributed to decay and scavenging are observed within this assemblage and taphonomic trends related primarily to the size of individuals are detected. These results indicate that taphonomic variability extends at least to genus level within the subclass Cladida. Understanding this variability is important in interpreting the genesis and nature of crinoid-bearing units, as minor variations in morphology, ethology, and scavenger preferences impart unexpected biostratinomic heterogeneity to Copan crinoid fauna that would otherwise be difficult to explain. Taphonomic variability at low taxonomic levels and the influence of preferential scavenging should be accounted for in future crinoid taphonomic grade studies, particularly in Pennsylvanian and younger deposits, in order to avoid taphonomic assumptions that may be overly broad.

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