Early Adaptation to Eolian Sand Dunes by Basal Amniotes Is Documented in Two Pennsylvanian Grand Canyon Trackways

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We report the discovery of two very early, basal-amniote fossil trackways on the same bedding plane in eolian sandstone of the Pennsylvanian Manakacha Formation in Grand Canyon, Arizona. Trackway 1, which is Chelichnus-like, we interpret to be a shallow undertrackway. It displays a distinctive, sideways-drifting, footprint pattern not previously documented in a tetrapod trackway. We interpret this pattern to record the trackmaker employing a lateral-sequence gait while diagonally ascending a slope of about 20°, thereby reducing the steepness of the ascent. Trackway 2 consists only of aligned sets of claw marks. We interpret this trackway to be a deeper undertrackway, made some hours or days later, possibly by an animal that was conspecific with Trackmaker 1, while walking directly up the slope at a speed of approximately 0.1 m/sec. These trackways are the first tetrapod tracks reported from the Manakacha Formation and the oldest in the Grand Canyon region. The narrow width of both trackways indicates that both trackmakers had relatively small femoral abduction angles and correspondingly relatively erect postures. They represent the earliest known occurrence of dunefield-dwelling amniotes―either basal reptiles or basal synapsids―thereby extending the known utilization of the desert biome by amniotes, as well as the presence of the Chelichnus ichnofacies, by at least eight million years, into the Atokan/Moscovian Age of the Pennsylvanian Epoch. The depositional setting was a coastal-plain, eolian dunefield in which tidal or wadi flooding episodically interrupted eolian processes and buried the dunes in mud.


Geology | Paleontology



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