Insects in the fossil record are generally preserved in lacustrine shales or in amber. For those in lacustrine shales, preservation is usually via keroginization or mineralization. Given the extended period of microbial decay required to generate ions for mineralization, there is a predicted inherent bias toward lower preservation quality for this pathway by most taphonomic indices compared with keroginization. This study tests this hypothesis by comparing multiple measures of preservation quality between sites with similar sedimentology in the Eocene Green River Formation of Colorado. Here, insects are either mineralized in iron oxides (likely after pyrite) at the Paleoburn site or keroginized at the Anvil Points site.
Generally, the prediction that keroginization preserves soft-bodied fossils with higher preservational quality than mineralization is affirmed, but with some caveats. Beetles, known for their robust cuticles, are proportionately more abundant at the Paleoburn site, but eight of the nine orders recorded are shared between sites. As predicted, insects show lower preservation fidelity at the Paleoburn site, but they also show higher degrees of disarticulation. This second bias should be acquired primarily during the biostratinomy stage, and not early diagenesis. Nonetheless, higher-energy biostratinomic conditions may be compatible with taphonomic conditions that promote mineralization over keroginization.
Comparing the inherent taphonomic bias of different preservation pathways is often difficult, since fossil deposits may be preserved millions of years or thousands of kilometers apart. By studying two different preservation pathways of insects within the same formation, we can affirm that keroginization does indeed preserve recalcitrant organic matter with higher quality than pyritization or iron-oxide mineralization. Additionally, some guidelines can be proposed concerning the body parts and taxa that can be compared, and for what purpose, when contrasting mineralized and keroginized soft-bodied deposits.