Palaeobiodiversity and Palaeoenvironments

, Volume 98, Issue 2, pp 243–258 | Cite as

Land or water: using taphonomic models to determine the lifestyle of the Triassic protorosaur Tanystropheus (Diapsida, Archosauromorpha)

  • Susan R. BeardmoreEmail author
  • Heinz Furrer
Original Paper


The Middle Triassic protorosaur Tanystropheus has been considered as both a terrestrial and aquatic taxon based on several lines of biomechanical and distributional evidence, but determining conclusively which habitat was most likely has remained problematic. Specimens of Tanystropheus longobardicus from the Middle Triassic Besano Formation, Monte San Giorgio, are used to investigate the possibility that palaeoecology can be inferred from skeletal taphonomy, which is compared to that of the pachypleurosaurid Serpianosaurus mirigiolensis (considered to be entirely aquatic) and the protorosaur Macrocnemus bassanii (terrestrial) from the same formation. The preservation of Tanystropheus was found to be more similar to Macrocnemus than Serpianosaurus implying carcasses of Tanystropheus originated in terrestrial or at least marginal and near-shore, shallow marine settings. That these were also the most probable habitats in life is supported by the relatively lower number of Tanystropheus (and also Macrocnemus) compared to Serpianosaurus. The study has further implications for the integument of the taxon, which remained sufficiently coherent to prevent the loss of disarticulated elements during an interval of floating necessary to reach the Monte San Giorgio Basin where carcasses came to finally rest. Loss of skeletal completeness was subsequent to arrival at the seabed and as a result of weak bottom current activity that also affected Serpianosaurus.


Triassic Marine reptiles Besano Formation Taphonomy Palaeoecology 



We thank Patrick Orr for helpful discussion throughout this study. We also thank Silvio Renesto and Nick Fraser for their comments and improvements to the manuscript. Research was conducted as part of a Ph.D project at University College Dublin, funded by the Irish Research Council for Science, Engineering and Technology (IRCSET).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Senckenberg Gesellschaft für Naturforschung and Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Elgin MuseumElginScotland
  2. 2.Paläontologisches Institut und Museum der Universität ZürichZürichSwitzerland

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