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Project U2: Food Ecology

Title Sauropod Food Ecology: insights from plant-animal co-occurrence, paleobotany, and evolutionary history of the Jurassic conifer Araucaria
Principal Investigator Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. Volker Mosbrugger
Researcher Dr. Carole Gee


The laboratory experiments of Hummel et al. (Project B1) on the nutritional value of Mesozoic plants in the first funding period of the Research Unit FOR 533 have shown that previous assumptions in the literature regarding sauropod food preferences are unfounded. Instead, plants offering the greatest amount of energy to herbivores would have included horsetails, araucarians, and ginkgoes, but not ferns, tree ferns, and cycads. It is thus hypothesized here that sauropods would have preferentially targeted Araucaria and Equisetum as food sources. This hypothesis will be tested using the fossil record in a series of three studies.

The first study will search for patterns in the co-occurrence of sauropod body and trace fossils with Araucaria, Equisetum, and other plant groups using published literature and unpublished data. The second study will elucidate the paleobotany and hence paleoecology of a diverse dinosaur bonebed in the Upper Jurassic Morrison Formation of Wyoming (Howe-Stephens Quarry, Howe Ranch), which has yielded a compression flora of virtually only Araucaria, but a varied palynoflora of ferns, seed ferns, and other conifers. The third study concerns the phylogenetic history of the genus Araucaria and the evolution of morphologies that may have arisen from herbivore feeding pressure, as well as the timing of these events in geological time.


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