Wooster’s Fossil of the Week: Encrusted strophomenid brachiopods from the Upper Ordovician of northern Kentucky (and the old concave-up or concave-down controversy)

After the delightful Joint North-Central and Southeastern Section Meeting of the Geological Society of America in Cincinnati this month, some of the Wooster Geologists visited a fossiliferous exposure of the Bellevue Formation (Upper Ordovician, Katian) along the Bullitsville Road in northern Kentucky (N 39.08121°, W 84.79230°; C/W-152). In between rainstorms we filled bags with lots of gorgeous fossils. (“Bellevue”, after all, means “beautiful view” in French, and we’re applying that to the view straight down to the ground.) The most common fossil we collected was the strophomenid brachiopod Rafinesquina alternata, an example of which is shown above. (Wooster senior Kate Runciman collected this specimen.)

We are looking above at the dorsal valve exterior of an articulated Rafinesquina alternata, meaning the valves are still joined as they were in life. The dorsal valve is concave, like the shape of your palm with your fingers slightly curled inwards. The hinge (H) of this brachiopod is the straight line at the top of the image. The curved line defining the shape of the brachiopod is the commissure (C), where the valves opened for filter-feeding. Most interesting for us is the encrusting trepostome bryozoan (B) at the bottom of the image. Most of it is on the other side of the brachiopod (see below), but note the clean boundary between its calcitic colony and the commissure of the brachiopod. Clearly the bryozoan grew on the living brachiopod, which continued to feed by opening and closing its valves. The bryozoan did not grow across this commissure, showing it and the brachiopod had a living relationship.

This is the other side of Kate’s brachiopod. We are looking at the ventral valve exterior which is convex (like looking at the back of your hand with fingers curved). The hinge (H) is again at the top. Note that the bryozoan (B) occupies about half of this ventral valve exterior. This shows us that the bryozoan was mostly living on the convex ventral valve, which must have been oriented upwards on the seafloor. This is a nice little fossil vignette supporting the hypothesis that these concave-convex brachiopods lived with the concave side down and the convex side up.

This concave up-or-down question was briefly a fun little controversy, with many debates in the early part of this century. I even covered it in this blog eight years ago. Certainly we can now say that the concave-down argument was won by the Dattilo et al. (2009) and Plotnick et al. (2013) teams.

There was another interesting encrusted Rafinesquina alternata specimen collected that day (above), this one found by Wenshuo Zhao (Fred, ’23). Here we are seeing the convex ventral valve with the hinge (H) at the top. Clustered along the anterior margin is a beautiful set of the encrusting inarticulate brachiopod Petrocrania scabiosa (P). They are irregular patches that have grown against each other like barnacles or oysters. These little brachiopods, which had no hinges between their valves, apparently attached along the margin of this larger brachiopod to take advantage of its feeding currents passing through its commissure. This is another indication of the host brachiopod being encrusted while it was alive, and the arrangement also supports the convex-up living orientation of Rafinesquina alternata.

Here is a closer view of the little Petrocrania scabiosa family.

There are always interesting specimens in bags of Upper Ordovician fossils from the Cincinnati region!


Dattilo, B.F., Meyer, D.L., Dewing, K. and Gaynor, M.R. 2009. Escape traces associated with Rafinesquina alternata, an Upper Ordovician strophomenid brachiopod from the Cincinnati Arch Region. Palaios 24: 578-590.

Plotnick, R.E., Dattilo, B.F., Piquard, D., Bauer, J. and Corrie, J. 2013. The orientation of strophomenid brachiopods on soft substrates. Journal of Paleontology 87: 818-825.

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Wooster geologists at the Joint North-Central and Southeastern Section Meeting of the Geological Society of America in Cincinnati

Cincinnati, Ohio —  This week Professor Wiles, Nick Wiesenberg and I attended the 2022 Joint North-Central and Southeastern meeting of the Geological Society of America in Cincinnati, about a three-hour drive south of Wooster. It was quite satisfying to attend such a meeting in person — for me it was my first such gathering since October 2019. The event was held at the Duke Energy Convention Center, a short walk from the Hilton hotel where we all stayed. All attendees had to show proof of Covid vaccinations, and masks were required for all events, but you will notice in these images that masks came off rather frequently.

This isn’t the prettiest picture of Cincinnati, but it was a nice view from the Convention Center of the bridges over the Ohio River into northern Kentucky.

The first Wooster posters of the meeting were presented on Thursday morning by Layali Banna (’22) and Mazvita Chikomo (’22). Their topic title was: “The Community Water Project: Student Exploration of the Geosciences in the Context of Stormwater Management in Northeast Ohio”. They have several coauthors, including Dr. Meagen Pollock, Dr. Greg Wiles, and Nick Wiesenberg. The poster is a summary of this past summer’s AMRE project.

Also on Thursday, Wenshuo Zhao (Fred, ’23) presented a poster entitled: “Voices in the Trees: Seeking Common Stories from Tree Rings in a remote collaboration”. Among his coauthors is Dr.Wiles.

Dr. Greg Wiles gave the first Wooster oral presentation at this meeting on Thursday. His title: “Putting the Recent Pluvial into Context: Tree-Ring Records of Midcontinental North American Hydroclimate.”. His coauthors included Nick Wiesenberg. He gives very animated talks!

Junpeng Fu (Jerry, ’22) presented his poster, “Tree Ring Dating of the Davey Tree Barn, Kent, Ohio, and the Value of Building Long Tree-Ring Records in Ohio”. Coauthors included Dr. Wiles, Nick and Fred.

Mazvita Chikomo (’22) gave the first Wooster student oral presentation on Thursday afternoon: “Modelling Meets Mirror Lake: How Highly Urbanized Areas Influence Surface Water – Groundwater Interactions”.

Friday morning was Kate Runciman’s (’22) turn to give a talk entitled: “Model of a Biotic Hard Substrate Community: Paleoecology of Large Trepostome Bryozoans from the Upper Ordovician (Katian) of the Cincinnati Region, USA”. Her coauthors included Dr. Caroline Buttler, Dr. Shelley Judge, and me.

Ricky Papay (’22) gave his poster on Friday morning: “The Glacial History of Wolf Lake Valley and the Development of a 4000 year Tree Ring Record in Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, Alaska”. His coauthors included Dr. Wiles and Nick.

The last Wooster presentation was a poster by Justine Paul Berina (’22) entitled: “Unearthing the Effects of European-American Settlement on a Northeast Ohio Kettle Hole Through Diatom Stratigraphy”. Coauthors included Dr. Wiles, Nick, me, and our University of Cincinnati NSF project colleagues. Note his nice suit, which he is still wearing in the field shot below!

A tradition for Wooster Geologists at a meeting is to have a nice dinner together. Nick took this photo of us having a great time in downtown Cincinnati on Thursday evening. Such great conversations. It is such a privilege to have these students in our department and college.

Of course, those Wooster Geologists who stayed until the end of the meeting took advantage of a break in the rain and visited a field site on the way home. This is an exposure of the Bellevue Formation (Upper Ordovician, Katian) along the Bullitsville Road in northern Kentucky (N 39.08121°, W 84.79230°; C/W-152). We collected bags full of brachiopods, bryozoans, crinoids and other delicious fossil groups. Dr. Wiles and I had to practically drag them off the outcrop to get back on the road home. It was so much fun after the long pandemic restrictions on our field activities. Note that Justine Berina is still in his presentation suit because we left the convention center immediately after his poster session!

It was a delightful meeting for all of us. Nick Wiesenberg was of enormous help as a driver and organizer on this trip. Thank you to the GSA staff and volunteers and all our friendly colleagues who made the gathering so collegial and stimulating. The College of Wooster should be especially proud of how well our students presented their research and embodied our institutional values.


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Unearthing the effects of European-American settlement on a northeast Ohio kettle lake through diatom stratigraphy — The Independent Study project of Justine Paul A. Berina (’22)

Editor’s Note: Independent Study (IS) at The College of Wooster is a three-course series required of every student before graduation. Earth Sciences students typically begin in the second semester of their junior years with project identification, literature review, and a thesis essentially setting out the hypotheses and parameters of the work. Most students do fieldwork or lab work to collect data, and then spend their senior years finishing extensive Senior I.S. theses. Justine Paul A. Berina (’22) had two advisors on his project: Mark Wilson (me!) and Greg Wiles. The following is his thesis abstract —

Recently, wetland conservation has highlighted the necessity for assessing limnological changes following European-American settlement. A prior study at Brown’s Lake (northeast Ohio) identified a stratigraphic sequence that shows an abrupt transition from organic-rich muds to several centimeters of a bright loess layer, then a recovery to organic-rich sediments near the top. Based on 210Pb dates, the loess deposition occurred before 1846 CE, when a growing population cleared trees and farmed intensively. Likewise, organics had recovered after 1950 CE, when people abandoned farmland and practiced conservation tillage. However, the effects of settlement on limnology are poorly known. Diatoms (microscopic algae; class Bacillariophyceae) respond to modifications in water quality and habitat parameters, and siliceous cell walls enable preservation in sediments as fossils. Therefore, a diatom stratigraphy can record the lake’s limnological history. A 1-m sediment core was extracted using a modified-Livingstone sampler and dated using AMS radiocarbon dating. A total of 380 cells from the core were analyzed. The data reveal shifting relative abundances that coincide with settlement activities. Before 880 CE, Thalassiosira sp., a non-motile genus, is dominant, making up 22.1% of diatoms. Between 880 CE and 1950 CE, Achnanthidium sp., a motile genus, is abundant, making up 25.0% of diatoms. It has been noted that the replacement of planktonic genera by diatoms capable of moving through fine sediments suggests a time of excess siltation. From 1950 CE to the present-day, Cyclotella sp., a non-motile genus, is dominant, making up 30% of diatoms. Despite these associations, the data cannot provide evidence of a cause-and-effect relationship due to confounding variables (e.g., climate, habitat availability, and structures), errors, and limitations. This study offers the first catalog of historical and modern diatom assemblages at Brown’s Lake to support conservation initiatives.

The diatom pictured at the top of this page is Gomphonema sp. The diatom immediately above is Navicula sp. Both images were taken by Justine using an oil immersion lens with our photomicroscopes.

Here is hardworking Justine on Brown’s Lake. Congratulations on completing a successful IS project!

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Model of a Biotic Hard Substrate Community: Paleoecology of Large Trepostome Bryozoans from the Upper Ordovician (Katian) of the Cincinnati Region, USA — The Independent Study project of Kate Runciman (’22)

Editor’s Note: Independent Study (IS) at The College of Wooster is a three-course series required of every student before graduation. Earth Sciences students typically begin in the second semester of their junior years with project identification, literature review, and a thesis essentially setting out the hypotheses and parameters of the work. Most students do fieldwork or lab work to collect data, and then spend their senior years finishing extensive Senior I.S. theses. Kate Runciman (’22) was the first in our department to submit her thesis (#7 in the College!). Kate had three advisors on her project: Mark Wilson (me!), Shelley Judge, and Caroline Buttler of the National Museum Wales. The following is her thesis abstract —

The calcite skeletons of trepostome bryozoan colonies from the Upper Ordovician (Katian) of the Cincinnati region record the diverse interactions and growth responses these colonies experienced. Trepostome specimens from three Cincinnatian strata; the Bellevue Member, the Bull Fork Formation, and the Whitewater Formation, were studied within this project. These three strata were deposited in a shallow epicontinental sea environment that was located in the southern subtropics, approximately 20-23°S at the time of deposition. The focus of this project was the paleoecology of large trepostome bryozoans, which was studied by examining bryozoan growth patterns, trace fossils, and sedimentation. Microscopic examination of these features was conducted by sectioning colonies and making acetate peels and thin sections. Through this examination many trace fossils were found, with Trypanites borings being the most common. These borings often contained calcite “ghosts” and appear to have been excavated mechanically by a worm such as a sipunculan or phoronid. A subset of the observed borings prompted growth reactions in their host bryozoan, indicating that these borings progressed through a live portion of the colony. Growth reactions served to seal the cavity and regain feeding surfaces by: (1) Zooids surrounding the cavity growing upwards and angling inwards, creating a “tent” with the cavity closed off; (2) Zooids growing laterally over the cavity opening, sealing it off with a flat “roof”; or (3) Zooids budding down into the cavity then angling upwards, filling in all open space and resuming a feeding surface above. Other features observed in the trepostomes studied include calcite tubes, which are interpreted as fossil cornulitids; a tube and holdfast, interpreted as a sphenothallid; and prismatic calcite features, which are interpreted as the remains of aragonitic shells. All colonies and trace fossils included in this study were infilled with one or more of: sparry calcite cement, dolomite rhombs, biosparite, micrite, prismatic calcite, and phosphate. This range of infilling materials suggests that infilling processes were episodic. The episodic nature of these processes allowed for the preservation of ghosts and occasionally geopetal structures. Internal surfaces were observed that indicated regions of self-overgrowth in the colony. These self-overgrowths were commonly associated with brown bodies. Work continues to combine insights provided by the trace fossils, growth responses, and infill observed in the Cincinnatian trepostomes to interpret the ecology and life modes of these bryozoans.

The image at the top is a thin-section longitudinal view of one of Kate’s bryozoans. It shows a bioclaustration of a soft-bodied encruster, most likely a sphenothallid. Location C/W-152.

This longitudinally-cut thin-section shows bryozoan zooecia with terminal diaphragms below a discontinuity and self-overgrowth. The terminating chambers contain remnants of the original soft-bodied bryozoan zooids (or polypides) known as “brown bodies“. Location C/W-153 (Bull Fork Formation near Maysville, Mason County, Kentucky; 38º 35.111′ N, 083º 42.094′ W).

And here’s Kate with an especially large trepostome bryozoan colony. Congratulations on a successful project!

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Wooster Geologists begin a new semester

We all hope this is our last pandemic semester. The College of Wooster began all its courses remotely for the first week of the semester, a format we are all very familiar with by now. In the second week we returned to our in-person classroom and lab spaces all masked up.

Above are before and after the switch images of my Sedimentology & Stratigraphy class, minus a couple of Covid casualties who will catch up later. I am very happy to leave Teams and Zoom teaching behind. Because of previous remote classes and my research leave last semester, this is my first physical class meeting since that fateful March of 2020.

No doubt we have an adventurous time ahead of us, but it feels so good to be part of a three-dimensional community again. Good luck to every one for 2022.

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A new book chapter for a new year: Evolutionary history of colonial organisms as hosts and parasites

My Estonian colleague and friend Olev Vinn and I have a chapter in the new book The Evolution and Fossil Record of Parasitism. Ours is chapter four on the evolutionary history of colonial organisms as hosts and parasites.

One of the figures (shown above) is of a Cretaceous coral-bivalve system in Israel we published (with Tim Palmer) in 2014 and described in an earlier blog post. It was one of my most enjoyable small projects, so it is fun to see it in a larger context.

The Abstract: Parasitic associations involving colonial animals are fairly evenly distributed through the post-Cambrian Phanerozoic and have a long evolutionary history. Parasitism may have played an important role in the evolution of colonial animals. In the Paleozoic, the majority of marine symbioses involved colonial animals,and it is likely that colonial animals were also important hosts of parasites in the Mesozoic and Cenozoic, but further studies are needed. In the Paleozoic, stromatoporoids and corals were the most common hosts to various invertebrate parasites. Corals continued to be important hosts to parasites in the Mesozoic and Cenozoic. In addition, colonial animals themselves often infest or otherwise live in association with other organisms and can be parasites; however, colonial animals are more often hosts than parasites, and this has been so throughout the Phanerozoic. The stratigraphic distribution of parasitic associations in colonial animals is divided into two separate blocks: Paleozoic (Ordovician to Permian) parasitic associations of colonial animals form the first block and Mesozoic to Recent parasitic associations of colonial animals form the second block. This division of parasitic associations corresponds well to the Sepkoski Paleozoic and Modern faunas and therefore these subdivisions are termed as the Paleozoic and the Modern parasitic associations of colonial animals.

The book took forever to come out, so there are a few new examples not covered, but our hypotheses about the patterns are clear. If you want a pdf, just let me know by email.


Vinn, O. and Wilson, M.A. 2021. Evolutionary history of colonial organisms as hosts and parasites, p. 99-119. In: K. De Baets, J.W. Huntley (eds.), The Evolution and Fossil Record of Parasitism. Topics in Geobiology 50, chapter 4. (https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-52233-9_4)

Wilson, M.A., Vinn, O. and Palmer, T.J. 2014. Bivalve borings, bioclaustrations and symbiosis in corals from the Upper Cretaceous (Cenomanian) of southern Israel. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 414: 243-245.

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Wooster’s Department of Earth Sciences 2020-2021 Annual Report!

Our Administrative Coordinator Patrice Reeder has assembled another magnificent annual report for our department. Once again the Covid Pandemic made this task all the more complex. The cover shows one of our remote courses during the eventful year. We’re back in person on campus now, of course. Let’s hope it stays this way!

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Petroleum Experts Ltd. Donates MOVE Suite to Wooster Earth Sciences Once Again

Wooster, Ohio — The Department of Earth Sciences again is pleased to announce that Petroleum Experts Ltd. recently donated ten licenses of their MOVE suite software package to be used for educational and training purposes.  This marks the fourth year in which Wooster Earth Sciences has worked with Petroleum Experts Ltd.  This generous donation of 10 licenses of the MOVE suite to the College currently has a market value of $2.54 million (US$), and it is accessed through a hardware based software protection device (a bitlock by Petex’s Network Licensing Manager, HARDLOCK).

The MOVE suite is the global industry standard for structural modelling, and its software modules include 2D/3D kinematic modelling, geomechanical modelling, sediment modelling, fracture modelling, fault analysis, and stress analysis, to name a few.  When using the MOVE suite, Wooster faculty and students are able to interpret data, build cross-sections, and kinematically and dynamically analyze structural histories.  More information about Petroleum Experts Ltd. and the MOVE suite can be found at https://www.petex.com/products/move-suite/move/.

Petroleum Experts Ltd. is based in Edinburgh, Scotland, with a satellite office in Houston, Texas.  The Department of Earth Sciences is appreciative for the diligent team effort at Petroleum Experts Ltd. that worked to make this current year’s donation possible.  We are also grateful for the conscientious work of numerous colleagues at the College (Vince DiScipio, Ellen Falduto, Lisa Perfetti), especially those in Technology Services who install and upkeep the MOVE suite.

During the upcoming calendar year, our faculty and students will benefit enormously from using the integrative MOVE suite; those students enrolled in the following courses will have access to class modules that require MOVE modelling capabilities: ESCI 340 (Structural Geology), ESCI 345 (Tectonics and Basin Analysis), and ESCI 401/451/452 (Independent Study).

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On encountering a nest of fraudulent geology papers

This is a different kind of post! This semester I stumbled into an enormous collection of phony research papers published in the Arabian Journal of Geosciences. I became fascinated with the brazen nature of this fraud, and its large scale. I learned that my discovery was, sadly, not unusual in the murky world of scientific publishing. I’m outlining the story below to increase awareness of publishing fraud and the corrosive effects it has on the scientific literature, the credibility of publishers, and the integrity of science itself. I’ve embedded several links to expert sources that will provide a larger context for these scams.

I have a Google Scholar profile online that informs me when one of my papers is cited. In August 2021 I received a notice that Buatois et al. (2017; a trace fossil paper on which I am a co-author) was cited by:

Wei, X., Liu, L. Tropical cyclone and business English cross-cultural communication based on temporal big data. Arab J Geosci 14, 1734 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12517-021-07894-7

The title was so bizarre that I had to find the article and see how it cited us. What have we ever done with cyclones, let alone “English cross-cultural communication”? But there we are, cited in a reference section that has only authors A-C alphabetically. All the citations are concerned with geology and paleontology issues unrelated to the strange text of the paper. Clearly the reference list had been copied and pasted from a legitimate paper. (Maybe even fake papers need real references?)

I immediately contacted the Nature Springer Senior Editor for the Middle East and North Africa, who readily agreed that this paper and others in the special volume were problems and that Nature Springer would take action. (They initially tagged the papers with “notes of concern”.) I then learned about the publishing watchdog website PubPeer, where I made an account and posted my concerns with the Arabian Journal of Geosciences papers. Experts on PubPeer then took the story on and greatly expanded it, with the eventual result of articles in Retraction Watch (August 26, 2021) and The Chronicle of Higher Education (September 28, 2021). Six weeks later Nature published a summary article on this scam and others (November 8, 2021).

In November 2021, Springer Nature began retracting hundreds of fake papers. A typical retraction note looks like this:These fake papers are apparently produced in what are termed “paper mills” (in the publishing sense, not the physical plants that manufacture paper!). Dishonest scientists and other professionals purchase these manuscripts and submit them to journals to bolster their research credentials. Here is another Nature article on the bull market for this kind of scientific fraud. This growing list of fraudulent papers is astonishing. This fraud is all disturbing enough, but it is also clear that some journal editors are either not paying attention to what is being published on their watch or somehow benefit from the paper mill system.

In the geology case described here, I’m amazed that there are dozens of published papers that are complete nonsense, including their titles. You would think a customer would at least demand a generic science-sounding title to fly under the radar of editors and the readership. This is the brazenness of this particular scam — that they expected to be unnoticed by the legitimate scientific community.


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New paper: Introducing the taphonomic process of ooimmuration

I’m pleased to announce the publication of an article describing how fossils can be preserved within carbonate ooids, and what the implications are for this new aspect of taphonomy (the study of fossil preservation) we call ooimmuration. The team of authors include me, Anna Cooke (’20), fellow Wooster Professor Shelley Judge, and ace paleontologist Dr. Tim Palmer. The fieldwork for this project was done primarily on the Team Utah 2019 Expedition to the Middle Jurassic Carmel Formation exposed north of St. George.

The image above shows a microscopic view of a thin-section cut through Carmel ooids. Fossils are inside these ooids, most notably a calcareous foraminiferan in the center.

The abstract: Ooimmuration is here defined as a taphonomic process by which fossils are preserved within ooids. It is a form of lithoimmuration, although depending on the role of microbes in the formation of the ooid cortex, ooimmuration can also be considered a type of bioimmuration. Fossils enclosed within ooids are protected from bioerosion as well as the abrasion common in energetic depositional environments such as ooid shoals. Many taxa in some fossil assemblages may be known only because they were ooimmured. We describe as examples of ooimmuration fossils preserved in an oolite from the Middle Jurassic (Bajocian) Carmel Formation in southwestern Utah.

Now go forth and find more examples of ooimmuration!


Wilson, M.A., Cooke, A.M., Judge, S.A. and Palmer, T.J. 2021. Ooimmuration: Enhanced fossil preservation by ooids, with examples from the Middle Jurassic of southwestern Utah, USA. Palaios 36: 326-329. (https://doi.org/10.2110/palo.2021.036)

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