An Early Triassic polar predator ecosystem revealed by vertebrate coprolites from the Bulgo Sandstone (Sydney Basin) of southeastern Australia
Niedźwiedzki et al
Vertebrate trace fossils often provide a measure of cryptic biodiversity, and are especially pertinent when skeletal remnants are exceptionally rare. The Lower Triassic (lower Olenekian) Bulgo Sandstone at Long Reef in the Sydney Basin of southeastern Australia constitutes just such a deposit, having yielded isolated bones of giant capitosaurian temnospondyls and proterosuchid archosauriforms, together with abundant coprolites that are geochemically rich in elemental phosphate and carbon denoting vertebrate predators. Microstructural analysis of these preserved droppings reveals occasional bone fragments, fish scales, insect cuticles, plant material and bacterial traces (pseudomorph voids), as well as silicate mineral particles. REE concentrations indicate that burial and early diagenesis occurred explicitly within fluvial sediments. Furthermore, external morphological characterization permits attribution of spiral coprolites to chondrichthyan or osteichthyan fishes, polygonal, ovoid–spherical and typically flattened feces to temnospondyls, and conspicuously large cylindrical droppings to archosauriforms or other amniote apex predators. Collectively, the Bulgo Sandstone coprolite assemblage thus offers new insights into ecosystem structure and palaeoenvironment in what was an earliest Triassic near polar setting. Such data compliments the documented skeletal record, but indicates a greater range of aquatic and possibly terrestrial carnivores — the latter being enigmatically sparse in the Australian Triassic and yet detected here via the hitherto underexplored trace fossil evidence of their ecological presence.