Abstract

A modern Lesser Flamingo (Phoeniconaias minor) assemblage was collected along the shoreline of Lake Emakat, a saline-alkaline lake in northern Tanzania. Taphonomic analysis found the assemblage to be heavily weathered. This is likely due to the bone's heightened exposure to solar radiation and corrosive soil and water chemistries, as is expected to occur in such depositional environments.

Analysis found that deep, wide, longitudinal cracks penetrate the medullar cavities of both weathered and unweathered long bones. The cause and taphonomic consequence of these cracks are addressed here, using data from Lake Emakat and from controlled studies. Results support repeated (episodic) submersion, followed by drying, as the causal mechanism behind these wet-dry cracks. Mineral salt uptake by bone may explain the early appearance and prevalence of these cracks in saline-alkaline lake settings, as compared to other depositional settings.

The rate of weathering and incidence of wet-dry cracking varies significantly across limb elements. This difference correlates to element specific resistance properties to external loading forces. Heavy weathering weakens the structural integrity of bone and can accelerate its fragmentation. This can lead to bird bone loss in nearshore and ephemeral wetland settings, which may then affect resulting skeletal part, diversity, and richness profiles. Heavy weathering can therefore obscure important taphonomic and paleoecological information.

The weathering data collected here are then applied to a fossil bird assemblage from the FLK Complex, (late Pliocene), Olduvai Gorge, in Tanzania. Results provide evidence for the effect of weathering on paleoecological and behavioral interpretations. Weathering should be considered when analyzing fossil bird assemblages.

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