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Taphonomy

This research line focuses on the factors that control the formation of the amber deposits and their paleobiological content, which is a necessary step before attempting to reconstruct the paleocommunities and paleoenvironments. In order to accomplish this, the taphonomy of amber and the organisms preserved within, chiefly arthropods and plants, is being studied.

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A group of objectives comprises the comparison of taphonomical biases in amber with those in modern resins and copal. Actualistic experiments are comparing tropical leguminous forests (Hymenaea spp., Copaifera spp.) with temperate araucariaceans forests (Agathis australis). During the last years, the fauna in modern resins and Pleistocene copal from Agathis was collected in New Zealand. These data are being compared with those from modern resins and copal from Hymenaea in Madagascar and Mexico, which were recently collected. Taphonomical analysis of amber and copal inclusions is based on differences between the trapping methods used in the tropical forest fieldwork. Due to the likely paucity in the diversity of arthropods collected in the field, we only use data on the most abundant groups (including the best represented groups in Cretaceous ambers), such as arachnids, hymenopterans, dipterans, and coleopterans. Numerous studies show that the arthropods preserved in resins do not accurately reflect their populations living around resiniferous trees, i.e., there are significant taphonomical and paleoecological biases. The presence of certain groups of arthropods in amber depends, among other factors, on the original viscosity of the resin, as fluid resin favoured the inclusion of small-sized individuals, which are unable to escape by amputation.

We also study the taphonomic factors that control the preservation of resin and its transformation in amber. In that regard, thanks to the morphological study of some amber pieces we have inferred that the resin that originated the Spanish amber was secreted in the proximity of its burial place. Another topic that we have been addressing is the preservation of soft body parts in amber inclusions, chiefly using X-ray synchrotron imaging in order to find preserved structures like muscles, digestive tracks, or sexual organs in the studied arthropods so we can compare their morphology with that of Recent fauna.

The taphonomic study of the amber-bearing deposits have demonstrated that the production of resin in the Cretaceous forests from Spain was, in part, influenced by abundant paleofires associated with the high CO2 and O2 levels in the atmosphere at that time; charcoalized wood and plant remains in the sediment, as well as charcoalized vegetal fibres as amber inclusions, are common.

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