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The use of sclerobiosis as a tool for paleoenvironmental and paleoecological research is undermined by a lack of comparable methods for sclerobiont data collection and analysis. We present a new method for mapping sclerobiont distributions across any host, and offer an example of how the method may be used to interpret sclerobiont data in relation to host orientation. This approach can also be used to assess the suitability of beds and fossil material for paleoenvironmental reconstruction.
A sample of 150 encrusted dorsibiconvex atrypide brachiopods were selected from six beds in the Waterways Formation (latest Givetian – Early Frasnian; Alberta, Canada). The dorsal and ventral valves of each brachiopod were photographed. Sclerobiont taxa were mapped onto the photographs, and the maps were used to create stacked images with each of the 25 brachiopod specimens from each bed. Based on the life orientation of dorsibiconvex atrypides, three zones were designated on the host: the post mortem zone, (only available to sclerobionts after death and reorientation of the host); the shaded zone (brachial valve, excluding the post mortem zone); and the exposed zone (ventral valve).
Randomization simulation results indicate that all beds likely exhibit non random encrustation patterns, and corroborate the hypotheses that: (1) much of the encrustation occurred while the hosts were alive, and (2) these beds and fossils have experienced little physical reworking or transport and would be suitable for paleoenvironmental analysis. Mapping sclerobionts across hosts can serve as a unifying method to increase the recognition and use of sclerobiosis in paleontological studies.