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The Fossil Record of Predation in Dinosaurs

  • James O. Farlow (a1) and Thomas R. Holtz (a2)

Abstract

Predatory theropod dinosaurs can usually be identified as such by features of their jaws, teeth, and postcrania, but different clades of these reptiles differed in their adaptations for prey handling. Inferences about theropod diets and hunting behavior based on functional morphology are sometimes supported by evidence from taphonomic associations with likely prey species, bite marks, gut contents, coprolites, and trackways. Very large theropods like Tyrannosaurus are unlikely to have been pure hunters or scavengers, and probably ate whatever meat they could easily obtain, dead or alive. Theropods were not the only dinosaur hunters, though; other kinds of large reptiles undoubtedly fed on dinosaurs as well The taxonomic composition of dinosaurian predator-prey complexes varies as a function of time and geography, but an ecologically remarkable feature of dinosaurian faunas, as compared with terrestrial mammalian faunas, is the very large size commonly attained by both herbivorous and carnivorous dinosaurs. The K/T extinction event(s) did not end dinosaurian predation, because carnivorous birds remained prominent predators throughout the Cenozoic Era.

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