Abstract

The bowl-shaped trace fossil Piscichnus waitemataGregory 1991 appears in Pliocene sandstones from Santa Maria Island (Azores Archipelago), extensively excavated during a stage of island evolution when the volcanic edifice was a guyot (flat-topped seamount) isolated in the NE Atlantic. The host sediments were deposited at depths from the intertidal zone to fair-weather wave base in a tropical climate under the influence of periodic storms and hurricanes. The traces were produced by ray fishes hunting for polychaetes, crustaceans and bivalves living in the sediment, similar to present-day nearshore, warm waters in the Azores, Baja California Sur (Mexico), and New Zealand, from which examples of feeding depressions are drawn (incipient Piscichnus). While P. waitemata is abundantly present in planar sediments on top of the guyot, far fewer trace fossils occur in sandstone deposited on the guyot's margins. Presumably, the different densities of ray holes in the two sedimentary bodies were a response to lesser availability of prey, lower seawater temperatures (due to greater depths), and a more dynamic environment in which life conditions were less favorable. Moreover, the potential preservation of bowl-shaped depressions was lower in this setting, given the steepness of the seafloor, stronger currents, and constant sediment mobility. The top of the guyot was a more favorable habitat, refuge and/or nursery ground for many ray fishes. Measurement of the diameters of the ray holes indicate three distinct size classes, which may suggest that several species were responsible for their formation.

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