ABSTRACT

A distinctive burrow form, Reniformichnus australis n. isp., is described from strata immediately overlying and transecting the end-Permian extinction (EPE) horizon in the Sydney Basin, eastern Australia. Although a unique excavator cannot be identified, these burrows were probably produced by small cynodonts based on comparisons with burrows elsewhere that contain body fossils of the tracemakers. The primary host strata are devoid of plant remains apart from wood and charcoal fragments, sparse fungal spores, and rare invertebrate traces indicative of a very simplified terrestrial ecosystem characterizing a ‘dead zone' in the aftermath of the EPE. The high-paleolatitude (∼ 65–75°S) setting of the Sydney Basin, together with its higher paleoprecipitation levels and less favorable preservational potential, is reflected by a lower diversity of vertebrate fossil burrows and body fossils compared with coeval continental interior deposits of the mid-paleolatitude Karoo Basin, South Africa. Nevertheless, these burrows reveal the survivorship of small tetrapods in considerable numbers in the Sydney Basin immediately following the EPE. A fossorial lifestyle appears to have provided a selective advantage for tetrapods enduring the harsh environmental conditions that arose during the EPE. Moreover, high-paleolatitude and maritime settings may have provided important refugia for terrestrial vertebrates at a time of lethal temperatures at low-latitudes and aridification of continental interiors.

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