Vertebrate Microfossil Assemblages: Their Role in Paleoecology and Paleobiogeography

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Overview

This volume presents state-of-the-art papers on important topics and methods in the analysis of vertebrate microfossil assemblages. The minute remains of animals and plants have proven very useful to paleontologists as tools for dating large fossils, describing the environments which existed at the time the fossils were deposited, and identifying and mapping the extent of local floras and faunas, among other things. Due to the large sample sizes that can be obtained, the chance to recover rare taxa is much higher than it is during a search for skeletal remains. Analysis of the data produced from microvertebrate localities can address a wide range of questions as these papers clearly demonstrate.

Indiana University Press

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Editorial Reviews

The Open Source Paleontologist
Indiana University Press’s Life of the Past series has unleashed a wealth of scientific and popular books on various aspects of paleontology. The latest offering, Microvertebrate Fossil Assemblages: Their Role in Paleobiology and Paleobiogeography, continues this fine tradition. The editors, Julia Sankey and Sven Baszio, are no strangers to the world of microvertebrate fossils (those tiny teeth, vertebrae, scales and other bones from fish, reptiles, non-avian dinosaurs, birds, and amphibians), having published many papers of their own focusing on microvertebrate assemblages from the Late Cretaceous of North America. Here, the editors have brought together a fine collection of papers primarily addressing this very topic. The general nature of the volume’s title does not entirely accurately reflect the papers within, however – the vast majority of the 13 chapters focus on continental microvertebrates from the Cretaceous of western North America. It may disappoint workers of Cenozoic or Paleozoic strata, or those who study marine facies, to see such small notice given to non-Cretaceous, non-terrestrial deposits. Despite this debatable "shortcoming," there is much to admire here.
The first chapter, by Sven Baszio, lays out potentials and pitfalls of microvertebrate assemblages for answering a variety of questions. Clearly, much progress has been made in this front since the first major screenwashing efforts of the 1960s. A second chapter, by Jamniczky et al., addresses a method for estimating the sufficiency of a sample for characterizing a microsite. Such statistical rigor is clearly needed. Schiebout et al.’s contribution represents the only section of the entire volume that does not dwell largely in the Mesozoic – here, the authors document associations of Cenozoic-aged mammalian fossils within pedogenic concretions.
The next three chapters address microvertebrate assemblages and their role in paleoecological reconstruction. Brinkman examines the role of microvertebrates in reconstructing guild structure within the Dinosaur Park Formation of Alberta, Canada. He pays particular attention to the role that taphonomy plays in how we reconstruct extinct ecosystems. Chapters by Sankey and DeMar and Breithaupt report on assemblages from the Aguja Formation of Texas and the Mesaverde Group of Wyoming, respectively.
A chapter by Fiorillo represents the only paper focused primarily on functional morphology. Here, Fiorillo uses microwear to examine potential variation in diet within sauropods from the Morrison Formation. Somewhat surprisingly, he reports that microwear patterns did not vary within taxa (regardless of where they lived), suggesting uniform diets. Unfortunately, no statistics are presented to validate this conclusion. This is a minor point, but a nagging one for my brain, which thrives on the "numbers game"!
The remaining chapters are largely systematic in nature. Sankey and Longrich each have their own chapter addressing theropod teeth from the Lance and Hell Creek Formations. Sankey provides a particularly useful table of measurements, and both chapters are well-illustrated. Apparently, the two authors come to somewhat different conclusions on systematics of isolated theropod teeth. In particular, Longrich floats the hypothesis that teeth referred to Richardoestesia (R. isosceles and R. gilmorei) all come from the same animal known as Paronychodon! This thus implies a heterodont dentition. Many of the small theropod taxa from the Lance and Hell Creek Formations are known only from teeth – it will take some well-preserved jaw material to sort out the true identity of most of these morphotaxa.
Currie and Coy report on a bird tooth from the Belly River Group; this tooth is particularly unusual for its serrated morphology. Welsh and Sankey then describe numerous types of eggshell from the Aguja Formation of Texas – clearly, a wide variety of dinosaur taxa were nesting in this area!
The final two chapters of the book, by Gardner and Böhme, and Gardner, focus on the less "glamorous" side of microvertebrate fauna: amphibians. Despite the fact that amphibians don’t have the cachet usually afforded dinosaurs, the chapters in question are important for clarifying the systematics and taxonomy of these groups. The numerous photographs in Gardner’s contribution on frogs will be very useful for those of us who have struggled with identifying frog material in the past.
Now, on to the "nuts and bolts" of the book itself. The hardcover volume is a convenient size and attractively jacketed, as is typical of the IUP series. The dust jacket art, by Russell Hawley with coloration by Nick Longrich, presents a dynamic reconstruction of many of the animals revealed in Cretaceous vertebrate microassemblages. In terms of the chapters themselves, the editors did a remarkably fine job of proofing the manuscripts, and typos are scarce (not always the case in some recent IUP volumes). One minor annoyance is the fact that none of the chapters have an abstract or summary at the beginning (and many don’t even have a summary at the end!). This makes it somewhat difficult for the casual reader to determine quickly the overall gist of an individual contribution. The illustrations are generally very well-reproduced, with good contrast and clarity. The book itself has a list price similar to comparable volumes ($59.95), but a quick search on Amazon (or a trip to the SVP meetings) will find some decent discounts.
My initial reaction to the papers in this book is that there is still a long way to go in understanding even the best-studied microfaunas of North America. Gardner’s chapter on frogs, and Sankey and Longrich’s chapters on theropods, particularly highlight this point. The taxonomy and systematics of these clades, even within the heavily-sampled Bug Creek fauna, or the Belly River Group fauna, is not yet settled in some cases. This should give heart to those of us early in our careers! And, the "guild analysis" presented by Brinkman also may point the way to other future studies. Finally, it never hurts to have more samples, focusing on different horizons and collecting methodologies.
So, who should buy this volume? I would say that anyone working in the Late Cretaceous of North America would do well to purchase a copy, as would those who work on some of the taxa detailed within (small theropods, frogs, etc.). Kudos to the editors and authors on this interesting contribution!Andy Farke, The Open Source Paleontologist, September 11, 2008

— Andy Farke

Choice - D. A. Brass

Vertebrate microfossil assemblages are collections of small, often-fragmented fossil remains, which usually contain a variety of taxa. Prior to the acceptance of taphonomy as part of mainstream paleontological studies, little attention was paid to microvertebrate fossil assemblages. Complete skeletons were far more popular as objects of study. Because of significant limitations in the collection and interpretation of information obtained from vertebrate microfossil assemblages, many researchers have expressed doubt as to the overall utility of microfossil-derived data. In large measure, this has been due to the lack of a standardized methodology for studying such sites. With recognition of the importance of microvertebrate assemblages to the study of paleobiology and evolution, methodology for studying such sites gradually evolved. Editors Sankey (California State Univ.) and Baszio (Univ. of Bonn, Germany) have divided this detailed work into two sections: "Importance of Microvertebrate Sites, Sampling, Statistical Methods, and Taphonomy" and "Guild Analysis, Ecological and Faunal Analysis, Biodiversity, and Paleobiogeopgraphy." In 13 well-referenced chapters, 17 authors present methodological approaches to the study of microfossil assemblages, results of several recent studies, and recommendations for future research. This book is sure to stimulate significant discussion among paleontologists and evolutionary biologists. Summing Up: Recommended. Upper-division undergraduate through research collections.D. A. Brass, independent scholar, Choice, November 2008

The Open Source Paleontologist - Andy Farke

Andy Farke, The Open Source Paleontologist, September 11, 2008

Peter Dodson

"For several decades the study of vertebrate microfaunas has contributed greatly to our understanding of the evolution and paleobiology of fossil vertebrates. Despite the importance of such studies, the discipline has perhaps been viewed as slightly out of the mainstream. This is the first time that microfaunal studies have coalesced into a single volume. Hopefully it is a harbinger of an intellectual maturation, the coming-of-age of a discipline." —Peter Dodson, University of Pennsylvania

From the Publisher

"In 13 well-referenced chapters, 17 authors present methodological approaches to the study of microfossil assemblages, results of several recent studies, and recommendations for future research. This book is sure to stimulate significant discussion among paleontologists and evolutionary biologists.... Recommended." —D. A. Brass, independent scholar, Choice, November 2008

Choice
Vertebrate microfossil assemblages are collections of small, often-fragmented fossil remains, which usually contain a variety of taxa. Prior to the acceptance of taphonomy as part of mainstream paleontological studies, little attention was paid to microvertebrate fossil assemblages. Complete skeletons were far more popular as objects of study. Because of significant limitations in the collection and interpretation of information obtained from vertebrate microfossil assemblages, many researchers have expressed doubt as to the overall utility of microfossil-derived data. In large measure, this has been due to the lack of a standardized methodology for studying such sites. With recognition of the importance of microvertebrate assemblages to the study of paleobiology and evolution, methodology for studying such sites gradually evolved. Editors Sankey (California State Univ.) and Baszio (Univ. of Bonn, Germany) have divided this detailed work into two sections: "Importance of Microvertebrate Sites, Sampling, Statistical Methods, and Taphonomy" and "Guild Analysis, Ecological and Faunal Analysis, Biodiversity, and Paleobiogeopgraphy." In 13 well-referenced chapters, 17 authors present methodological approaches to the study of microfossil assemblages, results of several recent studies, and recommendations for future research. This book is sure to stimulate significant discussion among paleontologists and evolutionary biologists. Summing Up: Recommended. Upper-division undergraduate through research collections.D. A. Brass, independent scholar, Choice, November 2008

— D. A. Brass, independent scholar

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780253349279
  • Publisher: Indiana University Press
  • Publication date: 4/28/2008
  • Series: Life of the Past Series
  • Pages: 296
  • Product dimensions: 7.00 (w) x 10.00 (h) x 0.85 (d)

Meet the Author

Julia T. Sankey is Associate Professor of Geology in the Department of Physics and Geology at California State University in Stanislaus.

Sven Baszio is a paleontologist at the University of Bonn, Germany.

Indiana University Press

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Table of Contents

Contents
Preface. Sven Baszio

Part 1. Importance of Microvertebrate Sites, Sampling, Statistical Methods, and Taphonomy

1. Information from Microvertebrate Localities: Potentials and Limits Sven Baszio
2. How Much Is Enough? A Repeatable, Efficient, and Controlled Sampling Protocol for Assessing Taxonomic Diversity and Abundance in Vertebrate Microfossil Assemblages Heather A. Jamniczky, Donald B. Brinkman, and Anthony P. Russell
3. Taphonomic Issues Relating to Concentrations of Pedogenic Nodules and Vertebrates in the Paleocene and Miocene Gulf Coastal Plain: Examples from Texas and Louisiana, USA Judith A. Schiebout, Paul D. White, and Grant S. Boardman

Part 2. Guild Analysis, Ecological and Faunal Analyses, Biodiversity, and Paleobiogeography

4. The Structure of Late Cretaceous (Late Campanian) Nonmarine Aquatic Communities: A Guild Analysis of Two Vertebrate Microfossil Localities in Dinosaur Provincial Park, Alberta, Canada Donald Brinkman
5. Vertebrate Paleoecology from Microsites, Talley Mountain, Upper Aguja Formation (Late Cretaceous), Big Bend National Park, Texas, USA Julia T. Sankey
6. Terrestrial and Aquatic Vertebrate Paleocommunities of the Mesaverde Formation (Upper Cretaceous, Campanian) of the Wind River and Bighorn Basins, Wyoming, USA
David G. DeMar Jr. and Brent H. Breithaupt
7. Lack of Variability in Feeding Patterns of the Sauropod Dinosaurs Diplodocus and Camarasaurus (Late Jurassic, Western USA) with Respect to Climate as Indicated by Tooth Wear Features Anthony R. Fiorillo
8. Diversity of Latest Cretaceous (Late Maastrichtian) Small Theropods and Birds: Teeth from the Lance and Hell Creek Formations, USA Julia T. Sankey
9. Small Theropod Teeth from the Lance Formation of Wyoming, USA Nick Longrich
10. The First Serrated Bird Tooth Philip J. Currie and Clive Coy
11. First Dinosaur Eggshells from Texas, USA: Aguja Formation (Late Campanian), Big Bend National Park Ed Welsh and Julia T. Sankey
12. Review of the Albanerpetontidae (Lissamphibia), with Comments on the Paleoecological Preferences of European Tertiary Albanerpetontids James D. Gardner and Madelaine Böhme
13. New Information on Frogs (Lissamphibia: Anura) from the Lance Formation (Late Maastrichtian) and Bug Creek Anthills (Late Maastrichtian and Early Paleocene), Hell Creek Formation, USA James D. Gardner

List of Contributors
Index

Indiana University Press

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