Relating Modern Holothurian Burrows to Environmental Conditions and the Study of Nearshore Paleoenvironments
In this neoichnological experiment, the burrowing behaviors and burrow morphologies of Thyonella gemmata, a mud-burrowing holothurian from the shallow waters of the northern Gulf of Mexico, were studied in a laboratory setting. The first goal of the experiment was to observe the burrowing behavior of T. gemmata and to describe the architectural and surficial morphology of the resulting biogenic structures by examining resin casts and box cores of evacuated burrows. The second goal was to associate variations in the morphology of the biogenic structures with specific environmental conditions. Three aspects of the holothurians environment were altered in separate experiments: sediment size, water temperature, and salinity.
By studying the burrow morphologies produced under the three experimental environmental parameters, the burrows can be compared with ichnofossils from nearshore paleoenvironments to determine if holothurians were present as well as paleoenvironmental conditions. This study provides a means of interpreting sediment consistency, fluctuations in water temperature and salinity, and proximity to the shoreline providing another tool to aid in understanding nearshore paleoenvironments.