Abstract

Fossil tetrapod swim tracks have been reported from deposits throughout the world, ranging in age from the Carboniferous (Mississippian) to the Neogene (Pleistocene). A normalized analysis of these occurrences demonstrates that lower Triassic strata contain an anomalously high number of occurrences. Lower Triassic swim tracks also tend to be better preserved, showing exceptionally detailed features such as scale striae and crescent-shaped claw margins. Preservation of these features required a firm and semicohesive substrate in order to maintain track detail before and after burial. Swim-track localities from the lower Triassic Moenkopi Formation in Utah (USA) are characterized by sedimentary and trace fossil features that demonstrate the widespread development and persistence of firmground substrates in a large delta plain complex. Within this delta, complex low-diversity invertebrate trace fossil assemblages consist of locally high densities of diminutive, millimeter-scale traces characteristic of stressed brackish-water faunas. We suggest that the depauperate infauna characteristic of such environments was repressed due to delayed biotic recovery following the end-Permian mass extinction, resulting in extremely low intensities of bioturbation. Lack of biogenic mixing promoted semiconsolidation of dewatered mud substrates and the widespread production and persistence of firmgrounds capable of recording and maintaining swim tracks. Thus a combination of factors, unique to the Early Triassic, increased the preservation potential of detailed swim tracks: (1) depositional environments that promoted the production of firmground substrates, (2) delayed ecologic recovery resulting in the lack of well-bioturbated sediment, and (3) the swimming behavior of various Early Triassic tetrapods.

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