Sea-level changes in the Lopingian of the northwestern Tethys

Evelyn Kustatscher, Massimo Bernardi, Fabio Massimo Petti, Matthias Franz Johanna H.A. van Konijnenburg-van Cittert & Hans Kerp

The Lopingian is characterised by an aridisation trend and substantial sea-level changes. Hence, the fossil record of this time interval is strongly affected by ecological and taphonomic factors inherent to these long-term processes. Integrated sedimentological and palaeontological studies in the Bletterbach Gorge (Dolomites, N-Italy) allow discrimination between biological signals and preservational bias, shedding light on the effect of sea-level changes on the preservation potential of terrestrial associations of plant remains and tetrapod footprints. Flora A, composed of more humid elements with larger leaf/shoot fragments, appears close to a sea-level highstand and is interpreted as a (par-)autochthonous assemblage of an intrazonal riparian vegetation. Flora B, dominated by xerophytic elements documented by smaller fragments, corresponds to an allochthonous assemblage of an azonal vegetation preserved in floodplain fines of a progradational fluvial plain associated with a sea-level lowstand. The distribution of vertebrate footprints mirrors that of the plant-bearing horizons and their abundance and morphological diversity strongly increases in correspondence with marine transgressions. This could be related to a more diverse fauna (more complex food-web related to more humid conditions) or more favourable taphonomic conditions. However, the most diversified fauna, recorded during the early phases of the regressive phase, is in our interpretation best explained by the rapid burial of footprints due to the increasing energy. Our study provides an explanation for the change in distribution and preservation of plant and animal fossils in the Bletterbach section and shows how the fossil content of continental successions is deeply influenced by sea-level changes.


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