Detection of mineralogically accentuated biogenic structures with high-resolution geophysics: implications for ichnology and geoecology

Keywords: Georadar, magnetic susceptibility, heavy minerals, ichnology


Identification and mapping of small-scale physical and biogenic structures in sand has been a challenge to sedimentologists and ichnologists. Under natural conditions, biogenic activity (trampling tracks, burrows) alter primary sedimentary structures, but also serve as important paleoenvironmental indicators of geotechnical properties of sediments, omission surfaces, and ecosystem dynamics. Therefore, the ability to recognize such structures as anomalies in shallow subsurface, especially when using indirect non-invasive methods, such as geophysical imaging, is an important aspect of assessing their relative contribution to the overall erosional-depositional record. This study presents experimental evidence of the viability of two highresolution geophysical methods in detecting sediment deformation that mimics shallow animal traces. High-frequency (800 MHz) ground-penetrating radar (GPR) imaging aided in visualizing a buried depression produced by a deer hoofprint cast indenter, with high-amplitude reflection return enhanced by a heavy-mineral concentration (HMC). Bulk in situ low-frequency (930 Hz), low-field magnetic susceptibility (MS) experiment supported the theoretical pattern of a decrease in MS over the thickest cover sand (maximum indentation depth) to ~0 mSI and the highest values over raised HMC horizon (marginal ridge; >8 mSI). Because both methods are affected by the presence and relative abundance of heavy minerals, the present approach can be applied in most siliciclastic settings. This study demonstrates the promise of extending the 2D visualization of subsurface targets to 3D datasets, with potential implications for sedimentological, ichnological, archaeological, and geoecological research that involves animal-sediment interaction at different scales.

Author Biography

Ilya V. Buynevich
Temple University, Philadelphia, USA


1. Allen, J. R. L., 1989. Fossil vertebrate tracks and indenter mechanics. Journal of the Geological Society, London, 146, 600-602.
2. Allen, J.R.L., 1997. Subfossil mammalian tracks (Flandrian) in the Severn Estuary, S.W. Britain: mechanics of formation, preservation and distribution. Philos. Trans. R. Soc. Lond., B 352, 481-518.
3. Butler, D.R., 1995. Zoogeomorphology – Animals as geomorphic agents. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 240 p.
4. Buynevich, I.V., 2011a. Buried tracks: ichnological applications of high-frequency georadar. Ichnos, 18, 189-191.
5. Buynevich, I.V., 2011b . Heavy minerals add weight to neoichnological research. Palaios, 26, 1-3.
6. Buynevich, I.V., Darrow, J.S., Grimes, Z.T.A, Seminack, C.T., Griffis N., 2011. Ungulate tracks in coastal sands: recognition and sedimentological significance. Journal of Coastal Research, SI 64, 334338.
7. Buynevich, I.V., 2012. Morphologically induced density lag formation on bedforms and biogenic structures in aeolian sands. Aeolian Research, 4, 1-5.
8. Buynevich, I.V., 2015. Recent vertebrate tracks in sandy substrates and their paleoenvironmental implications: examples from coastal Lithuania. Baltica, 28, 29-40.
9. Buynevich, I.V., Curran, H.A., Wiest, L.A., Bentley, A.P.K., Kadurin, S.V., Seminack, C.T., Savarese, M., Bustos, D., Glumac, B., Losev, I.A., 2014. Nearsurface imaging (GPR) of biogenic structures in siliciclastic, carbonate, and gypsum dunes. In Hembree, D.I., Platt, B.F., and Smith, J.J., (eds.), Experimental Approaches to Understanding Fossil Organisms: Lessons from the Living, Springer, Dordrecht, The Netherlands, pp. 405-418.
10. Fanelli, F., Palombo, M.R., Pillola, G.L., and Ibba, A., Tracks and trackways of “Praemegaceros” cazioti (Depéret, 1897) (Artiodactyla, Cervidae) in Pleistocene coastal deposits from Sardinia (Western Mediterranean, Italy). Bollettino della Società Paleontologica Italiana, 46, 47-54.
11. Fornós J.J., Bromley, R.G., Clemmensen, L.A., Rodriguez-Perea A., 2002. Tracks and trackways of Myotragus balearicus Bate (Artiodactyla, Caprinae) in Pleistocene aeolianites from Mallorca (Balearic Islands, Western Mediterranean). Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology, 180, 277313.
12. Frey, R.W., Pemberton, S.G., 1986. Vertebrate Lebensspuren in intertidal and supratidal environments, Holocene barrier islands, Georgia: Senckenbergiana Maritima, 18, 45-99.
13. Hasiotis, S.T., Platt, B.F., Hembree, D.I., Everhart, M., 2007. The trace-fossil record of vertebrates. In: Miller, W., III (ed.) Trace fossils-concepts, problems, prospects. Elsevier Press, pp. 196-218.
14. Laporte, L.F., Behrensmeyer, A.K., 1980. Tracks and substrate reworking by terrestrial vertebrates in Quaternary sediments of Kenya. Journal of Sedimentary Petrology, 50, 1337-1346.
15. Lewis, D.W., Titheridge, G., 1978. Small scale sedimentary structures resulting from foot impressions in dune sands. Journal of Sedimentary Petrology, 48, 835-838.
16. Loope, D.B., 1986. Recognizing and utilizing vertebrate tracks in cross section, Cenozoic hoofprints from Nebraska. Palaios 1, 141-151.
17. Milàn, J., Bromley, R.G., 2006. True tracks, undertracks and eroded tracks: experimental work with tetrapod tracks in laboratory and field. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology, 231, 253-264.
18. Milàn, J., Clemmensen, L.B., Buchardt, B., Noe-Nygaar, N., 2007a. A late Holocene tracksite in the Lodbjerg dune system, northwest Jylland, Denmark. In: Lucas, S.G., Spielman, J.A., Lockley, M. (eds.) Cenozoic vertebrate tracks and traces, vol 42. New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science, Albuquerque, pp. 241-250.
19. Milàn, J., Bromley, R.G., Titschack, J., Theodorou, G., 2007b. A diverse vertebrate ichnofauna from a Quaternary eolian oolite from Rhodes, Greece. SEPM Special Publications, 88, 333-343.
20. Scott, J.J., Renaut, R.W., Owen, R.B., 2008. Preservation and paleoenvironmental significance of a footprinted surface on the Sandai Plain, Lake Bogoria, Kenya Rift Valley. Ichnos, 15, 208-231.
21. Stott, P., 1996. Ground-penetrating radar: a technique for investigating the burrow structure of fossorial vertebrates. Wildlife Research, 22, 519-530.
22. Urban, T.M., Bennett, M.R., Bustos, D., Manning, S.W., Reynolds, S.C., Belvedere, M., Odess, D., Santucci, V.L., 2019. 3-D radar imaging unlocks the untapped behavioral and biomechanical archive of Pleistocene ghost tracks. Scientific Reports, 9, 16470.
23. Van der Lingen, G.J. and Andrews, P.B. 1969, Hoof-print structures in beach sand: Journal of Sedimentary Petrology, 39, 350-357.
24. Vialov, O. S., 1966. Sledy Zhiznedeyatelnosti Organizmov i Ikh Paleontologicheskoe Znachenie. [Traces of the Vital Activity of Organisms and their Paleontological Significance]. Kiev, Naukova Dumka, Academy of Sciences, Ukrainian S.S.R., 219 pp. [in Russian].
25. Zonneveld, J.-P., 2016. Applications of experimental neoichnology to paleobiological and evolutionary problems. Palaios, 31, 275-279.
How to Cite
Buynevich, I. (2020). Detection of mineralogically accentuated biogenic structures with high-resolution geophysics: implications for ichnology and geoecology. Journal of Geology, Geography and Geoecology, 29(2), 252-257.