Ocean Community News

Graduate Student Names New Trace Fossil Discovered During Coursework

Discovery is one of only a handful of wood-boring trace fossils from marine environments found to-date

University of Alberta graduate student Scott Melnyk made an intriguing fossil find during a graduate level course -- and ended up identifying the fossilized tracks of a newly discovered wood-boring organism in a new study.

"Apectoichnus lignummasticans is unique in that it is only the third wood-boring trace fossil associated with marine environments," explained Melnyk, graduate student with the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences and member of the Ichnology Research Group.

Trace fossils, which include tracks, burrows, and tunnels, are the fossilized evidence of the activities of past life, explained Melnyk, who conducted the research under the supervision of Professor Murray Gingras in Earth and Atmospheric Sciences.

"Trace fossils are very useful to interpret environmental characteristics of Earth millions of years ago," said Melnyk. "The marine origin of these fossils, for example, provides evidence that the shallow sea that covered much of Western Canada -- the Cretaceous Interior Seaway -- extended into west-central Saskatchewan roughly 100 million years ago."

Discovery from the Classroom

Melnyk came across the fossil during a graduate-level sedimentology course in one of the cores of the University of Alberta's Drill Core Collection. The collection was donated by Shell Canada and contains more than 6,000 meters of drill cores that the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences uses for teaching and research.

"The following year I became a teaching assistant for the course, and brought the fossil to the attention of my advisor, Murray Gingras," said Melnyk. "From there we set out to study whether or not the trace fossils were in fact unique and determine their geological significance."

And while the fossils are significant for their geological rarity, they're also a cause to celebrate the research of graduate students.

"This is only the second time in 20 years that a University of Alberta graduate student has named a new trace fossil," said Gingras. "The fossils are similar in many respects to modern borings in wood by marine isopods -- this was a remarkable find and a testament to the importance of our students' work."

By University of Alberta

Journal Reference:

Scott Melnyk, Stephen Packer, John-Paul Zonneveld, Murray K. Gingras. A new marine woodground ichnotaxon from the Lower Cretaceous Mannville Group, Saskatchewan, CanadaJournal of Paleontology, 2020; 1 DOI: 10.1017/jpa.2020.63


ECO Magazine is a marine science trade publication committed to bringing scientists and professionals the latest ground-breaking research, industry news, and job opportunities from around the world.


8502 SW Kansas Ave
Stuart, FL 34997


Newsletter Signup

The ECO Newsletter is a weekly email featuring the Top 10 stories of the past seven days, providing readers with a convenient way to stay abreast on the latest ocean science and industry news.