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Vertebrate coprolites (fossil faeces): An underexplored Konservat-Lagerstatte
Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Science and Technology, Biology, Department of Organismal Biology, Evolution and Developmental Biology.
Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Science and Technology, Biology, Department of Organismal Biology, Evolution and Developmental Biology.
Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Science and Technology, Biology, Department of Organismal Biology, Evolution and Developmental Biology.ORCID iD: 0000-0001-5209-5767
2016 (English)In: Earth-Science Reviews, ISSN 0012-8252, E-ISSN 1872-6828, Vol. 162, p. 44-57Article, review/survey (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Fossilized soft tissues of animals (e.g. muscles, hair and feathers) are valuable sources of palaeobiological information, but a poor preservation potential makes them undesirably scarce in the fossil record. The aim of this review is to summarize main findings, current progress and the analytical constraints of detecting fossilized soft tissues in coprolites from, mainly, freshwater and terrestrial carnivorous vertebrates. We conclude that soft-tissue inclusions in coprolites are sources of two important lines of information: the fossils can be put in a direct palaeoecological context, and characters of extinct taxa are more likely preserved in the phosphate-rich taphonomic microenvironment of coprolites than elsewhere. As a result, it is possible to unravel the deep-time origins of host-parasite relations, to understand ancient trophic food webs and detect new soft-tissue characters of different animal groups. Examples of the latter include muscle tissues from a tyrannosaurid prey, tapeworm eggs (including a developing embryo) in a Permian shark coprolite, as well as hair from multituberculates and, probably, from stem-mammals (Therapsids). Additionally, the use of coprolites in an archaeological context is briefly reviewed with focus on key aspects that may become implemented in studies of pre-Quaternary specimens as well. In summary, there is a wide range of information that can be extracted from coprolites, which has not yet been fully explored in palaeontological studies.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2016. Vol. 162, p. 44-57
Keywords [en]
Coprolites, Soft tissues, Lagerstatten, Phosphatization, Conservation traps, Palaeoecology
National Category
Geosciences, Multidisciplinary Evolutionary Biology
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-311769DOI: 10.1016/j.earscirev.2016.08.014ISI: 000388776700003OAI: oai:DiVA.org:uu-311769DiVA, id: diva2:1061360
Funder
Knut and Alice Wallenberg FoundationSwedish Research Council, 2014-4367Available from: 2017-01-02 Created: 2017-01-02 Last updated: 2020-02-16Bibliographically approved
In thesis
1. Who ate whom? Paleoecology revealed through synchrotron microtomography of coprolites (fossil feces)
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Who ate whom? Paleoecology revealed through synchrotron microtomography of coprolites (fossil feces)
2020 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

Fossil droppings, known as coprolites, are being increasingly recognized as a valuable source of paleoecological information with special regard to diets, parasitism, and physiology of extinct taxa. Here, it is suggested that the excellent preservation and amount of inclusions in the coprolites (e.g. food residues and parasites) qualifies them as Lagerstätten – deposits with exceptional paleontological information. However, two interlinked problems commonly arise when they are studied. Firstly, it is often difficult to tie coprolites to producers and, secondly, it is challenging to recognize the fragmented and randomly distributed inclusions in their matrix. Here I use propagation phase-contrast synchrotron microtomography (PPC-SRμCT) in combination with other techniques to solve these problems. As a result, the oldest known example of archosaurian osteophagy is uncovered based on inter alia the occurrence of serrated teeth and many crushed bones in coprolites assigned to the Late Triassic theropod-like archosaur Smok wawelski. Osteophagy has previously been thought to be rare among extinct archosaurs with the exception of Late Cretaceous tyrannosaurids. This suggests some degree of ecological convergence between the tyrannosaurids and S. wawelski. Furthermore, exceptionally-preserved beetle remains are discovered in coprolites tentatively assigned to the Triassic dinosauriform Silesaurus opolensis, which had a specialized dentition and possessed beak-shaped jaws that were likely used to peck insects off the ground. Moreover, pterosaur coprolites are shown to contain similar food residues as found in droppings of recent flamingos, implying that some Late Jurassic pterosaurs were filter feeders. I argue that such paleoecological studies have a large impact on our understanding of ancient animals, and that studies of coprolites can unravel parts of ancient food webs in unprecedented ways. Information on past food webs may, in turn, be used to analyze trophic changes through time, which could cast new light on big evolutionary events. This is demonstrated by reconstructing trophic structures in early Mesozoic assemblages that represent snapshots of three stages of early dinosaur evolution.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Uppsala: Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis, 2020. p. 49
Series
Digital Comprehensive Summaries of Uppsala Dissertations from the Faculty of Science and Technology, ISSN 1651-6214 ; 1904
Keywords
coprolites, paleoecology, synchrotron microtomography, taphonomy, Triassic
National Category
Other Biological Topics
Research subject
Biology
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-404162 (URN)978-91-513-0875-3 (ISBN)
Public defence
2020-04-03, Lindahlsalen, Evolutionsbiologiskt centrum, Norbyvägen 14, Uppsala, 09:15 (English)
Opponent
Supervisors
Available from: 2020-03-13 Created: 2020-02-16 Last updated: 2020-03-13

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Qvarnström, MartinNiedzwiedzki, GrzegorzZigaite, Zivile

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