Palaeobiodiversity and Palaeoenvironments

, Volume 96, Issue 4, pp 601–609 | Cite as

Avian feet, crocodilian food and the diversity of larger birds in the early Eocene of Messel

  • Gerald MayrEmail author
Original Paper


The lower Eocene lacustrine sediments of the Messel fossil site in Germany yielded a very rich and diversified avifauna. Most of the well-preserved skeletons stem from small-sized birds, whereas complete specimens of larger avian species are rare. There exist, however, a number of isolated feet of larger birds, eight of which are described in the present study. Except for one, all of these specimens exhibit broken leg bones with missing ends, which suggests that they represent feeding remains of predators or scavengers. Crocodilians, which are very abundant and diversified in the fossil record of Messel, are the most likely candidates, and the preservation of the Messel feet corresponds well with that of unambiguous crocodilian feeding remains from the late Oligocene of Europe. The eight feet described in the present study belong to just as many different species, most of which are otherwise unknown in the fossil record of Messel. Except for one, all specimens probably are from terrestrial taxa. These fossils attest to a hidden diversity of medium-sized to large terrestrial birds in the Messel palaeoenvironment and a bias in the taphonomic composition of the bird community towards the remains of small to medium-sized avian species.


Aves Fossil birds Taphonomy Feeding remains Scavenging 



I thank E. Brahm and S. Schaal for access to the fossil specimens and S. Tränkner for taking the photographs. The late Manfred Keller is acknowledged for donating SMF-ME 11286, SMF-ME 11606 and SMF-ME 11607. Finally, I thank the two reviewers, Zbigniew Bochenski and Antoine Louchart, for comments that improved the manuscript.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The author declares that he has no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Senckenberg Gesellschaft für Naturforschung and Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum Frankfurt, Ornithological SectionFrankfurt am MainGermany

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