Graphoglyptids are deep-marine trace fossils, often found preserved as casts in positive relief on the base of turbidites. Previous analyses of the behavioral evolution of graphoglyptids suggested they were slowly diversifying, becoming optimized, and getting smaller over time until the Late Cretaceous, when a sudden increase in diversification occurred. This current study quantifies the morphology of approximately 400 different graphoglyptid specimens, ranging in age from the Cambrian to the present, in order to evaluate the behavioral evolutionary interpretations made previously. Results from this study indicate that although some general evolutionary patterns can be discerned, they are not as straightforward as previously reported.
Different topological categories of trace fossils represent organisms’ responses to evolutionary pressures in unique ways. While burrow widths of meandering traces were becoming smaller over time, as predicted by previous workers, the burrow widths of the network traces were becoming smaller only until the Late Cretaceous, when they started to get larger again. The times of significant evolutionary changes in behavior were not consistent among various topological categories, with some morphological features being affected in the Late Cretaceous and others during the beginning of the Eocene. It is likely that the behavioral evolution of graphoglyptids was influenced by deep-marine global influences linked to climate change, glaciation, and deep-ocean warming. These influences affected each topological group uniquely, suggesting that different species or genera of trace makers were creating each of the topological categories. This is contrary to the hypothesis that all graphoglyptids were created by closely related species.