Abstract

Dinosaur tracksites recently discovered in exposures of the Belly River Group in the Milk River Natural Area (MRNA) and Dinosaur Provincial Park (DPP) of southern Alberta represent a novel type of ichnofossils. The tracks, all referable to hadrosaurs, occur as sideritic or calcareous concretions protruding above fine-grained deposits and are here termed concretionary tracks. Detailed sedimentological, petrographic, and geochemical analyses reveal that, although the MRNA and DPP tracks are of different mineralogical compositions (calcium carbonate versus siderite, respectively), they display similar internal structures (microscopic convoluted laminations) and occur in depositional settings indicative of wet paleoenvironments, where the ground was soft and water saturated. These characteristics suggest that concretionary tracks are footprint casts that formed as groundwater rich in dissolved carbonates flooded depressions left in the soft substrate. As the ponded water evaporated, minerals began to precipitate and mix with clastic material transported into the depressions, settling as finely laminated mud within the tracks and filling them either completely or partially. The geochemical composition of the precipitate would depend on the prevalent groundwater conditions (e.g., pH, dissolved carbonate and sulphate concrentrations). Cementation of the tracks occurred relatively soon after burial (<100 years), possibly in response to microbial activity and saturation by mineral-rich groundwater, and modern erosion exposed the concretionary tracks by removing the softer host unit. Recognition of this novel type of ichnofossils suggests dinosaur tracks may be more common than previously thought. Unfortunately, concretionary tracks tend to break apart rapidly when the encasing and underlying substrate erodes away, altering their diagnostic shape and rendering them indistinguishable from nonichnogenic concretions. As such, concretionary tracks may be transient ichnofossils in the badlands, explaining why they are rarely recognized.

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