Classification of trace fossils

Organisms with the same behaviour (e.g. feeding, walking, living in a burrow, etc.) and a similar body plan produce very similar if not identical structures. Therefore, within palaeontology trace fossils are treated like organisms. This means they are given binominal names like organisms (genus and species in animals, plants, bacteria, funghi, etc.; ichnogenus and ichnospecies in trace fossils), although they do represent sedimentary structures rather than organisms.  After ichnogenus and ichnospecies the author(s) of the first description is/are written as well as the year when the new trace fossil was first published. The syllable “ichno-” sets it apart from the rest of the biological system and points out that the described specimens are trace fossils and not actual (= body) fossils.

A taxonomical system like in biology that has the ability to group similar organisms in families, orders, etc. and therefore may show evolutionary relationships between groups, however, does not exist for trace fossils, yet. In the future a system might evolve out of the morphological gouping of trace fossils from the determination-key published by Knaust (2012).

Thus, for trace fossils two different classification systems exist that are completely independent from each other. One is based on the morphological features of a trace fossil, the other has more an interpretational value and groups the traces in categories that resemble a certain behaviour.

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