Disorientation of corals in Late Ordovician lime mudstone: A case for ephemeral, biodegradable substrate?

Mirinae Lee, Robert J. Elias, Suk Joo Choh, Dong Jin Lee

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


Massive coralla representing the tabulate coral Agetolites occur on a lime mudstone bed in the Upper Ordovician Xiazhen Formation of southeastern China. Other fossils include solitary rugose corals, bryozoans, trilobites, and mollusks. In addition, abundant spicules and spicule networks suggest that sponges were widespread. The occurrence of intact, unabraded fossils in micritic matrix and the absence of high-energy sedimentary structures indicate deposition in low-energy conditions. Thin section analysis of disoriented specimens demonstrates that geopetal indicators are consistent with stratigraphic “up” and differ from the growth axes of the corals, implying that geopetal infillings formed after disorientation. The growth axes of coralla were not redirected during life, suggesting that the corals were either dead at the time of disorientation or died as a result of disorientation. An examination of cyclomorphism indicates that the corals died at different times, rather than during a single event. A close association between sponges and corals is suggested by the presence of spicule networks in calices and intracorallum spaces of Agetolites. It is hypothesized that disorientation of corals was related to growth on biodegradable substrates. We suggest that many coral larvae settled on sponges that formed “sponge meadows”. Disorientation of the resulting corals may have occurred when (1) a host sponge could no longer support the weight of a coral and collapsed, (2) increasing weight or imbalance of a coral caused it to fall off the sponge, or (3) a coral became detached when the sponge died and decomposed. If the coral was alive, sudden deposition in a disoriented position within muddy sediment resulted in its death. Disorientation of massive skeletons, such as colonial coralla, is most commonly attributed to water energy. This study suggests that ephemeral substrates may have been involved in some cases.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)55-65
Number of pages11
JournalPalaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology
Publication statusPublished - 2019 Apr 15


  • Geopetal structure
  • Palaeoecology
  • Sponges
  • Tabulate coral
  • Taphonomy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oceanography
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Earth-Surface Processes
  • Palaeontology


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