Taphonomy of an Upper Triassic Rhynchosaur Bonebed From India

Mukherje, D. and  & S. Ray. 2012. Taphonomy of an Upper Triassic vertebrate bonebed: A new rhynchosaur (Reptilia; Archosauromorpha) accumulation from India. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology (advance online publication) http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.palaeo.2012.03.010

Abstract - The Upper Triassic Tiki Formation of India is a rich storehouse of varied vertebrate fossil assemblages. So far, there is no information on taphonomic signatures of the Tiki vertebrate assemblages in comparison to that of other fossiliferous horizons of India. We report a new, low diversity, mono-dominant, multitaxic vertebrate accumulation where rhynchosaurs constitute the dominant component. The formation of the rhynchosaur bonebed is attributed to biological aggregation with a hydraulic overprint resulting in a mixed-origin concentration. Other taxa include rauisuchid, phytosaur, small indeterminate archosaur and cynodonts. Taphonomic study based on 617 skeletal specimens of rhynchosaurs collected from nine sites within an area of about 250x217 sq m shows that most of the specimens are disarticulated and disassociated but in close spatial proximity to one another; some are associated specimens and few are articulated. About 13 to 20 individuals of rhynchosaur at different ontogenetic stages are estimated from the specimens collected, suggesting gregarious behaviour, possibly herding. These specimens show varying degree of weathering, breakage, encrustation, abrasion and deformation. The bonebed is preserved within the Tiki red mudstone unit and is found in association with paleosol profiles, suggesting prolonged subaerial exposure. Spatial distribution and relative bone frequencies show differential susceptibility of the skeletal specimens to fluvial transport. 55.4% of the collected skeletal specimens belonged to Voorhies Group I, whereas 12.4% and 24% constituted Voorhies Group II and III respectively, and 8.2% of the collected specimens belonged to the intermediate group I and II. It appears that the animals concentrated in the vicinity of the water sources during prolonged period of aridity and died possibly during high seasonal rainfall that resulted in a major flood event. Subsequently, the soft tissues decomposed, and the skeletons suffered prolonged subaerial exposure when the water receded leading to disarticulation and fragmentation followed by minor dispersion by low velocity water currents. This resulted in segregation of skeletal specimens, which were gradually covered by mud deposited during later flooding events. Based on the known flora and fauna, the Tiki Upper Triassic ecosystem is reconstructed for the first time. In the aquatic ecosystem, the metoposaurid labyrinthodonts occupied the top of the food pyramid together with the semi-aquatic parasuchids, which occupied an ecological niche similar to that of the present day crocodilians. The abundance of herbivorous rhynchosaurs at the base with few large and carnivorous rauisuchids and parasuchids at the top suggest a trophic structure similar to that of a modern day terrestrial ecosystem.

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