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Data for: Modeling the transition of death assemblages through the mixed layer predicts a downcore increase in time averaging

Cite this dataset

Tomasovych, Adam; Kidwell, Susan; Dai, Ran (2022). Data for: Modeling the transition of death assemblages through the mixed layer predicts a downcore increase in time averaging [Dataset]. Dryad.


Understanding how time averaging changes during the burial is essential for using Holocene and Anthropocene cores to analyze ecosystem change, given the many ways in which the time averaging affects biodiversity measures. Here, we use transition-rate matrices to explore how time averaging changes downcore when shells transit through a taphonomically-complex mixed layer into permanently-buried historical layers: this is a null model, without any temporal changes in rates of sedimentation or bioturbation, to contrast with downcore patterns that might be produced by human activity. Assuming stochastic burial and exhumation movements of shells between increments within the mixed layer and stochastic disintegration within increments, almost all combinations of net sedimentation, mixing, and disintegration produce a downcore increase in time averaging (interquartile range, IQR), typically associated with a decrease in kurtosis and skewness and with a shift from right-skewed to symmetrical age distributions. A downcore increase in time averaging is a null expectation wherever bioturbation generates an internally-structured mixed layer (i.e., a surface well-mixed layer is underlain by an incompletely-mixed layer), so that shells are mixed throughout the entire mixed layer at slower rate than they are buried below it by sedimentation. This downcore trend created by mixing is further amplified by the downcore decline in disintegration rate. Using data from the southern California shelf, we find that transition-rate matrices accurately reproduce the downcore changes in IQR, skewness, and kurtosis observed in sediment cores. The right-skewed distributions typical of surface death assemblages – the focus of most actualistic research – might be fossilized under exceptional conditions of episodic anoxia or sudden burial. However, such right-skewed assemblages will not typically transfer into subsurface historical layers and thus will be geologically transient. The deep-time fossil record will be dominated instead by more time-averaged assemblages with weakly skewed age distributions that form in the lower parts of the mixed layer.


Functions for forward and inverse modeling of age distributions. Data used to estimate transition rates – radiocarbon-calibrated amino acid racemization age data of two bivalve species from the southern California shelf.

Collection and dating details: Tomašových, A., Kidwell, S.M., Alexander, C.R. and Kaufman, D.S., 2019. Millennial‐scale age offsets within fossil assemblages: Result of bioturbation below the taphonomic active zone and out‐of‐phase production. Paleoceanography and Paleoclimatology, 34, 954-977.

Usage notes

Data is in R language.


Slovak Research and Development Agency, Award: APVV17-0555

Ministry of Education, Science, Research and Sport of the Slovak Republic, Award: VEGA02/0169/19

National Science Foundation, Award: NSF-EAR 112418ta