Abstract

The assumption that particular depositional environments are associated with certain taphonomic patterns has given rise to the concepts of taphofacies and taphonomic mode. This association has been well tested in the marine invertebrate realm—albeit often with restricted geographic and stratigraphic sampling—but less so among terrestrial vertebrates. Here I characterize the overall taphonomic patterns of 36 published terrestrial vertebrate fossil assemblages based on a suite of 12 well-reported taphonomic characteristics, and assess which factors could influence the observed modification patterns. Very little systematic pattern is observable in the distribution of taphonomic characteristics among any of the published data with respect to sedimentary environment of preservation, preserved taxa or average taxon size, inferred mode of mortality, time, or place of deposition. This suggests that the factors controlling the taphonomic modification of terrestrial vertebrate assemblages are extremely complex and emphasizes that most taphonomic histories involve a multiplicity of contingent, interacting processes. The increased sedimentological heterogeneity of terrestrial environments likely plays an important part in producing this complexity, along with regional changes in climate and accommodation. Given the lack of consistent taphonomic patterns, isotaphonomy should not be assumed for comparisons of vertebrate fossil assemblages, even from the same facies, without strong supporting evidence. The only robustly supported consistent taphonomic pattern is the similarity among assemblages from the Dinosaur Park Formation (p  =  0.039). This is attributed partly to the unique genetic processes of the Dinosaur Park Formation assemblages and partly to the relatively short time span of their deposition, hence less variance in the factors that could control taphonomic pattern (e.g., climate) than found in formations deposited over longer periods.

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