Sydney Booth L&S Sciences
A Case Study in Taphonomy from the Phillips Coal Ball Collection
The Pennsylvanian (323–299 million years ago) is a very unique time interval in Earth’s history. The Pennsylvanian tropics have one of the best plant-fossil records due to coal balls. These are carbonate nodules containing anatomically preserved fossil peat—deposits of partially decomposed plant material (Schopf, 1975). The Phillips Coal Ball Collection (PCBC) is one of the largest paleobotanical datasets in existence, containing 50,000 coal balls and 500,000 coal ball peels—thin, acetate sheets. From the peels, 800,000cm2 of plant material have been microscopically analyzed and identified at a tissue/organ level. While these fossils have been studied extensively, the link between plant diversity and taphonomy—the process of fossilization—remains underexplored. My plan is to develop an index of preservation decay and apply it to a case study of peels, examining the link between preservation and diversity. I expect lower species diversity in highly degraded peels. Any correlation I find could have major implications for all analyses of one of the world’s most important paleobotanical datasets, which has been critical to the study of plant-climate relationships.