Importance and Applications of Dinosaur Tracks

The most abundant and important dinosaur trace fossils are dinosaur tracks. Tracks have all of the advantages of most other trace fossils:

1 they are potentially more abundant than other dinosaur body fossils;

2 they may be preserved in rocks that do not normally preserve dinosaur body fossils; and

3 they directly reflect dinosaur behavior where it happened.

The aspects of dinosaur behavior that can be interpreted from tracks include, but are not limited to:

■ Where and in what environments they preferred to roam.

■ Individual or group movements in these environments.

■ Interactions among dinosaurs of the same species or different species.

■ Approximate speeds of movement.

■ Their most likely postures.

■ Nuances of individual behavior.

A few parameters of dinosaur environments that can be elucidated from their tracks include the relative moistness of the sediment they were traversing, whether the original formation of the tracks affected any other organisms, and how sediments, or even bones of other animals (including dinosaurs), were affected by dinosaur trampling.

In the absence of body fossils, whose distribution and preservation were dependent on different taphonomic factors (Chapter 7), dinosaur tracks in Mesozoic strata also could be used in biostratigraphy as indicators of a former dinosaurian presence. Such information is especially important for determining whether the ancestors of dinosaurs had evolved by the Middle Triassic (Chapter 6) or whether any dinosaurs lived past the end of the Cretaceous Period (Chapter 16). Dinosaur paleobiogeography is also better defined by adding dinosaur track data to the skeletal record. So far, dinosaur tracks have been found on six continents, only excluding Antarctica (Chapters 9 to 13). Finally, well-defined footprints reveal dinosaur soft-part anatomy that is not normally preserved in their body fossils. Thus, tracks help "flesh out" dinosaur limbs more than is possible by just looking at their limb bones (Chapter 5).

Dinosaur tracks, more often than any other dinosaur fossils, tell us what a dinosaur was doing on a given day in the Mesozoic, and in most cases also tell us exactly where they did it.

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