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A quantitative analysis of environmental associations in sauropod dinosaurs

Philip D. Mannion and Paul Upchurch
A quantitative analysis of environmental associations in sauropod dinosaurs
Paleobiology (May 2010) 36 (2): 253-282


Both the body fossils and trackways of sauropod dinosaurs indicate that they inhabited a range of inland and coastal environments during their 160-Myr evolutionary history. Quantitative paleoecological analyses of a large data set of sauropod occurrences reveal a statistically significant positive association between non-titanosaurs and coastal environments, and between titanosaurs and inland environments. Similarly, "narrow-gauge" trackways are positively associated with coastal environments and "wide-gauge" trackways are associated with inland environments. The statistical support for these associations suggests that this is a genuine ecological signal: non-titanosaur sauropods preferred coastal environments such as carbonate platforms, whereas titanosaurs preferred inland environments such as fluvio-lacustrine systems. These results remain robust when the data set is time sliced and jackknifed in various ways. When the analyses are repeated using the more inclusive groupings of titanosauriforms and Macronaria, the signal is weakened or lost. These results reinforce the hypothesis that "wide-gauge" trackways were produced by titanosaurs. It is commonly assumed that the trackway and body fossil records will give different results, with the former providing a more reliable guide to the habitats occupied by extinct organisms because footprints are produced during life, whereas carcasses can be transported to different environments prior to burial. However, this view is challenged by our observation that separate body fossil and trackway data sets independently support the same conclusions regarding environmental preferences in sauropod dinosaurs. Similarly, analyzing localities and individuals independently results in the same environmental associations. We demonstrate that conclusions about environmental patterns among fossil taxa can be highly sensitive to an investigator's choices regarding analytical protocols. In particular, decisions regarding the taxonomic groupings used for comparison, the time range represented by the data set, and the criteria used to identify the number of localities can all have a marked effect on conclusions regarding the existence and nature of putative environmental associations. We recommend that large data sets be explored for such associations at a variety of different taxonomic and temporal scales.

ISSN: 0094-8373
EISSN: 1938-5331
Serial Title: Paleobiology
Serial Volume: 36
Serial Issue: 2
Title: A quantitative analysis of environmental associations in sauropod dinosaurs
Affiliation: University College London, Department of Earth Sciences, London, United Kingdom
Pages: 253-282
Published: 201005
Text Language: English
Publisher: Paleontological Society, Lawrence, KS, United States
References: 91
Accession Number: 2010-039597
Categories: Vertebrate paleontology
Document Type: Serial
Bibliographic Level: Analytic
Illustration Description: illus. incl. 10 tables
Country of Publication: United States
Secondary Affiliation: GeoRef, Copyright 2017, American Geosciences Institute. Abstract, Copyright, The Paleontological Society. Reference includes data from GeoScienceWorld, Alexandria, VA, United States
Update Code: 201022
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