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Vertebrate trackways among a stand of Supaia White plants on an early Permian floodplain, New Mexico

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 May 2016

William A. DiMichele
Department of Paleobiology, NMNH Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC 20560, USA,
Spencer G. Lucas
New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science, Albuquerque, NM 87104, USA,
Karl Krainer
Institute of Geology and Paleontology, University of Innsbruck, Innsbruck A-6020, Austria,


Little is known about the habit and spatial distribution of Early Permian tropical vegetation, a sharp contrast with the Pennsylvanian from which many in-situ “T0” assemblages are known. Even less is known about the potential interaction of plants and vertebrates. Here we report the discovery of a small stand of 34 probable Supaia White plants from the Abo Formation of New Mexico. The plants were growing on a mudflat, subject to periodic flooding and exposure. The same mudflat hosts trackways of vertebrates that appear to have walked around or between the Supaia plants. The stems are preserved as molds, and vary from 20 mm to 70 mm in diameter, averaging 42.4 mm, indicating heights of approximately 2.5–4 m. The plants, which may be described as small trees given their estimated height, are as close as 110 mm to their nearest neighbor and average nearly 300 mm apart. A series of lines or filled fissures, which we interpret as roots, radiates from the base of each stem. Leaves of Supaia thinfeldioides White are the only foliage found in association with these stems, on bedding planes above and at the base of the lowest expression of the stem molds. Associated vertebrate trackways either congregate around some of the stems or wend their way between the stems and include those of a single large temnospondyl amphibian (Limnopus Marsh) and many of small predatory parareptiles (Dromopus Marsh). This study demonstrates that S. thinfeldiodes were small-statured, weedy, opportunistic plants. It also shows that contemporaneous vertebrates prowled such environments, presumably either for food, shelter, or both given detectable pace and path.

Research Article
Copyright © The Paleontological Society 

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