Naturwissenschaften

, Volume 99, Issue 6, pp 435–442 | Cite as

A drowned Mesozoic bird breeding colony from the Late Cretaceous of Transylvania

  • Gareth Dyke
  • Mátyás Vremir
  • Gary Kaiser
  • Darren Naish
Original Paper

Abstract

Despite a rapidly improving fossil record, the reproductive biology of Mesozoic birds remains poorly known: only a handful of undisputed, isolated Cretaceous eggs (some containing embryonic remains) are known. We report here the first fossil evidence for a breeding colony of Mesozoic birds, preserved at the Late Cretaceous (Maastrichtian) Oarda de Jos (Od) site in the Sebeş area of Transylvania, Romania. A lens of calcareous mudstone with minimum dimensions of 80 cm length, 50 cm width and 20 cm depth contains thousands of tightly packed, morphologically homogenous eggshell fragments, seven near-complete eggs and neonatal and adult avialan skeletal elements. Eggshell forms 70–80 % of the matrix, and other fossils are entirely absent. The bones exhibit clear characters of the Cretaceous avialan clade Enantiornithes, and the eggshell morphology is also consistent with this identification. Both taphonomy and lithology show that the components of this lens were deposited in a single flood event, and we conclude that it represents the drowned remains of a larger enantiornithine breeding colony, swamped by rising water, washed a short distance and deposited in a shallow, low-energy pond. The same fate often befalls modern bird colonies. Such a large concentration of breeding birds suggests aquatic feeding in this species, augments our understanding of enantiornithine biology and shows that colonial nesting was not unique to crown birds.

Keywords

Avialae Enantiornithes Eggs Oology Nesting behaviour Hatching 

Notes

Acknowledgments

We thank E. Buffetaut, A. Clark, Z. Csiki, A. Dulai, J. Dyke, G. Grellet-Tinner, E. Hankó, R. Hebda, R. Horn, F. Jackson, E. Kurochkin, A. Ősi, J. O’Connor, P.M. Sander, P. Tafforeau, D. Varricchio, X. Wang, two anonymous reviewers, R. Reisz and S. Thatje for their help with this project and for detailed comments on the manuscript.

References

  1. Board RG, Sparks NHC (2004) Shell structure and formation in avian eggs. In: Deeming DC, Ferguson MWJ (eds) Egg incubation: its effect on embryonic development in birds and reptiles. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp 71–86Google Scholar
  2. Bowen GJ, Bloch JI (2002) Petrography and geochemistry of floodplain limestones from the Clarks Fork Basin, Wyoming, U.S.A.: carbonate deposition and fossil accumulation on a Paleocene-Eocene floodplain. J Sed Res 72:46–58CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Brown HD (1957) The breeding of the lesser flamingo in the Mweru Wantipa, northern Rhodesia. Ibis 99:688–692CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Chiappe LM (1993) Enantiornithine (Aves) tarsometatarsi from the Cretaceous Lecho Formation of northwestern Argentina. Am Mus Novit 3083:1–27Google Scholar
  5. Chiappe LM, Witmer LM (2002) Mesozoic birds: above the heads of dinosaurs. University of California Press, BerkeleyGoogle Scholar
  6. Codrea V, Dica P (2005) Upper Cretaceous–Lowermost Miocene lithostratigraphic units in Alba Iulia–Sebeş–Vintu de Jos area (SW Transylvanian Basin). Studia Universitatis Babes-Bolyai, Geologia 50:19–26Google Scholar
  7. Codrea V, Vremir M, Jipa C, Godefroit P, Csiki Z, Smith T, Fărcaş C (2010) More than just Nopcsa’s Transylvanian dinosaurs: a look outside the Haţeg Basin. Palaeogeogr Palaeoclimatol Palaeoecol 293:391–405CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Csiki Z, Vermir M, Brusatte SL, Norell MA (2010) An aberrant island-dwelling theropod dinosaur from the Late Cretaceous of Romania. Proc Nat Acad Sci 107:15357–15361PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Dyke GJ, Ősi A (2010) A review of Late Cretaceous fossil birds from Hungary. Geol J 45:434–444Google Scholar
  10. Elzanowski A (1981) Embryonic skeletons from the Late Cretaceous of Mongolia. Pal Pol 42:147–179Google Scholar
  11. Espie RHM, James PC, Brigham RM (1998) The effects of flooding on piping plover Charadrius melodus reproductive success at Lake Diefenbaker, Saskatchewan, Canada. Biol Conserv 86:215–222CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Flint PL, Grand JB (1996) Nesting success of Northern pintails on the coastal Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, Alaska. Condor 98:54–60CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Grellet-Tinner G, Norell MA (2002) An avian egg from the Campanian of Bayn Dzak, Mongolia. J Vert Paleontol 22:719–721CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Grellet-Tinner G, Chiappe LM, Norell MA, Bottjer D (2006) Dinosaur eggs and nesting behaviours: a paleobiological study. Palaeogeog Palaeoclimatol Palaeoecol 232:294–321CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Hayward JL, Zelenitsky DK, Smith DL, Zaft DM, Clayburn JK (2000) Eggshell taphonomy at modern gull colonies and a dinosaur clutch site. Palaios 15:343–355Google Scholar
  16. Hoyt DF (1979) Practical methods of estimating volume and fresh weight of bird eggs. Auk 96:73–77Google Scholar
  17. Jackson FD, Horner JR, Varricchio DV (2010) A study of a Troodon egg containing embryonic remains using epifluorescence microscopy and other techniques. Cret Res 31:255–262CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Kharatinov SP, Siegel-Causey D (1988) Colony formation in birds. In: Johnston RF (ed) Current ornithology, vol. 5. Plenum, New York, pp 223–272Google Scholar
  19. Ludwig JP, Auman HJ, Kurita H, Ludwig ME, Campbell LM, Giesy JP, Tillitt DE, Jones P, Yamashita N, Tanabe S, Tatsukawa R (1993) Caspian tern reproduction in the Saginaw Bay ecosystem following a 100-year flood event. J Great Lake Res 19:96–108CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Mao KM, Murakami A, Iwasawa A, Yoshizaki N (2007) The asymmetry of avian egg-shape: an adaptation for reproduction on dry land. J Anat 210:741–748PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Mikhailov KE (1996) Bird eggs in the Upper Cretaceous of Mongolia. Pal J 30:114–116Google Scholar
  22. Mundy PJ, Herremans M (1997) Redbilled Quelea Quelea quelea. In: Harrison J, Allan D, Underhill L, Herremans M, Parker V, Brown CJ (eds) The atlas of Southern African birds. Avian Demography Unit, Cape Town, pp 573–575Google Scholar
  23. O’Connor JK, Wang X-R, Chiappe LM, Gao C-H, Meng Q-J, Cheng X-D, Liu J-Y (2009) Phylogenetic support for a specialized clade of Cretaceous enantiornithine birds with information from a new species. J Vert Paleontol 29:188–204CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. O’Connor JK, Chiappe LM, Bell A (2011) Pre-modern birds: avian divergences in the Mesozoic. In: Dyke GJ, Kaiser G (eds) Living dinosaurs: the evolutionary history of modern birds. Wiley Blackwell, London, pp 39–114CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Ősi A (2008) Enantiornithine bird remains from the Late Cretaceous of Hungary. Oryctos 7:55–60Google Scholar
  26. Ősi A, Buffetaut E (2008) Additional non-avian theropod and bird remains from the early Late Cretaceous (Santonian) of Hungary and a review of the European abelisauroid record. Annales de Paléontologie 97:35–49Google Scholar
  27. Peresbarbosa E, Mellink E (2001) Nesting waterbirds of Isla Montague, northern Gulf of California, México: loss of eggs due to predation and flooding, 1993–1994. Waterbirds 24:265–271CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Poiani A (2006) Effects of floods on distribution and reproduction of aquatic birds. Adv Ecol Res 39:63–83CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Sanz JL, Buscalioni AD (1992) A new bird from the Early Cretaceous of Las Hoyas, Spain, and the early radiation of birds. Palaeontol 35:829–845Google Scholar
  30. Sanz JL, Chiappe LM, Pérez-Moreno B, Buscalioni AD, Moratalla JJ, Ortega F, Poyata-Ariza FJ (1996) An Early Cretaceous bird from Spain and its implications for the evolution of avian flight. Nature 382:442–445CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Schweitzer MH, Jackson FD, Chiappe LM, Schmitt JG, Calvo JO, Rubilar DE (2002) Late Cretaceous avian eggs with embryos from Argentina. J Vert Paleontol 22:191–195CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Sidle JG, Carlson DE, Kirsch EM, Dinan JJ (1992) Flooding: mortality and habitat renewal for Least terns and Piping plovers. Colonial Waterbirds 15:132–136CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Simkiss K (2004) Fluxes during embryogenesis. In: Deeming DC, Ferguson MWJ (eds) Egg incubation: its effect on embryonic development in birds and reptiles. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp 47–52Google Scholar
  34. Smart IHM (2004) Egg shape in birds. In: Deeming DC, Ferguson MWJ (eds) Egg incubation: its effect on embryonic development in birds and reptiles. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp 101–116Google Scholar
  35. Therrien F (2005) Palaeoenvironments of the latest Cretaceous (Maastrichtian) dinosaurs of Romania: insights from fluvial deposits and paleosols of the Transylvanian and Haţeg basins. Palaeogeog Palaeoclimatol Palaeoecol 218:15–56CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Therrien F, Jianu C-M, Bogdan S, Weishampel DB, King JW (2002) Palaeoeonvironmental reconstructions of latest Cretaceous dinosaur-bearing formations of Romania: preliminary results. Sargetia 11:33–59Google Scholar
  37. Van Itterbeeck J, Sasaran E, Codrea V, Sasaran L, Bultynk P (2004) Sedimentology of the Upper Cretaceous mammal- and dinosaur-bearing sites along the Raul Mare and Barbat rivers, Hatseg Basin, Romania. Cret Res 25:517–530CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Vremir M (2010) New faunal elements from the Late Cretaceous (Maastrichtian) continental deposits of Sebeş area (Transylvania). Acta Musei Sabesiensis 2:635–684Google Scholar
  39. Walker CA (1981) New subclass of birds from the Cretaceous of South America. Nature 292:51–53CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Walker CA, Dyke GJ (2010) Euenantiornithine birds from the Late Cretaceous of El Brete (Argentina). Ir J Earth Sci 27:15–62CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Walker CA, Buffetaut E, Dyke GJ (2007) Large euenantiornithine birds from the Cretaceous of southern France, North America and Argentina. Geol Mag 144:977–986CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Wang X, Dyke GJ, Codrea V, Godefroit P, Smith T (2011) A euenantiornithine bird from the Late Cretaceous Hateg Basin of Romania. Acta Pal Pol 56:853–857CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Whitehead PJ, Tschimer K (1990) Magpie goose, Anseranas semipalmata, nesting on the Mary River floodplain, Northern Territory, Australia—extent and frequency of flooding losses. Australian Wildl Res 17:147–157CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Zelenitsky DK, Therrien F (2008) Phylogenetic analysis of reproductive traits of maniraptoran theropods and its implications for parataxonomy. Palaeontol 51:807–816CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Zhou Z, Zhang F (2004) A precocial avian embryo from the Lower Cretaceous of China. Science 306:653PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Gareth Dyke
    • 1
  • Mátyás Vremir
    • 2
  • Gary Kaiser
    • 3
  • Darren Naish
    • 1
  1. 1.Ocean and Earth Science, National Oceanography Centre, SouthamptonUniversity of SouthamptonSouthamptonUK
  2. 2.Department of Natural SciencesTransylvanian Museum Society (EME)Cluj-NapocaRomania
  3. 3.Royal British Columbia MuseumVictoriaCanada

Personalised recommendations