Baucon, A., Neto de Carvalho, C., Barbieri, R., Bernardini, F., Cavalazzi, B., Celani, A., Felletti, F., Ferretti, A., Schönlaub, H.P. Todaro, A., Tuniz, C. 2017. Organism-substrate interactions and astrobiology: Potential, models and methods. Earth-Science Reviews 171: 141-180.
Organism-substrate interactions and their products – biogenic structures – are important biosignatures on Earth. This study discusses the application of ichnology – the study of organism-substrate interactions – to the search for present and past life beyond Earth. Three main questions are addressed: (1) Why to look for biogenic structures (i.e. traces and ichnofabrics) beyond Earth? (2) What biogenic structures to expect on other planets, moons and asteroids? (3) How to study extraterrestrial biogenic structures?
Review of terrestrial evidence highlights a set of properties that make traces and ichnofabrics important for the search of potential extraterrestrial life: trace fossils preserve the activity of soft-bodied organisms; biogenic structures are resilient to processes that obliterate other biosignatures (i.e. mechanical and chemical degradation, diagenesis, tectonism and metamorphism); traces are very visible biosignatures; traces indicate environment and behaviour; traces can be universal biosignatures, i.e., biosignatures ideally suited for detecting any type of life.
A model of organism-substrate interactions beyond Earth is here proposed. Expected extraterrestrial traces are those that manifest behaviours that allow to maintain homeostasis: excavations, meandering traces and biodeposition structures.