Fossil vertebrate distributions are typically based on body fossils, which are often poorly sampled at the margins of their true temporal and spatial ranges. Because vertebrate ichnofossils can be preserved in great abundance and in different environments than vertebrate body fossils, inclusion of ichnofossil data may improve sampled ranges. However, if ichnofossils are to serve as an independent source of distributional data, then their attribution to a body fossil group (i.e., trackmaker identification) cannot rely on temporal and spatial coincidence. Ichnofossils identified by synapomorphies can act as an independent source of distributional data that can modify spatial, temporal, and character distributions, which in turn may influence hypotheses of locomotor evolution.
In this paper I evaluate the spatial, temporal, and character distributions of early sauropod dinosaurs by using a combined ichnofossil and body fossil data set. Sauropod ichnofossils supplement the spatiotemporal distributions of early sauropods and provide important information on early sauropod foot posture that is rarely preserved or can only be inferred from body fossils. The presence of derived features in early-appearing ichnofossils challenges previous hypotheses of character transformation, implying either parallelism, reversal, or ghost lineages.
Stratocladistics can be used to resolve conflicting character and temporal distributions from body fossils and ichnofossils. Stratocladistic analysis of a combined ichnofossil and body fossil data set suggests a richer, more widely distributed diversity of early sauropods than currently recognized in body fossils and suggests that several locomotor characters originated much earlier than implied by body fossils.