Early Jurassic dinosaur-dominated track assemblages, floristic and environmental changes in the Holy Cross Mountains region, Poland

Grzegorz Pacyna, Jadwiga Ziaja, Maria Barbacka, Grzegorz Pieńkowski, Agata Jarzynka, Grzegorz Niedźwiedzki


The Early Jurassic succession of the Holy Cross Mountains region in Poland offers a rare opportunity to study ecosystem complexity during the evolution and diversification of early dinosaurs, especially herbivorous ones. The section consists of continental and coastal deposits containing fossil assemblages spanning nearly 25 My of changes in terrestrial plants and some groups of invertebrates and tetrapods. Based on macrofossils and pollen and spores, the broader characteristics of the flora in this succession are presented. The floral assemblages show typical Early Jurassic characteristics and contain lycopsids, sphenopsids, ferns, cycadaleans, bennettitaleans, gnetaleans and ginkgoaleans, as well as conifers, and are similar to other Hettangian–Toarcian floral successions in Europe, showing the presence of a vast coniferous forest dominated by Hirmeriella in the early Hettangian, replaced by ginkgophyte-dominated floras in younger stages and araucarian conifer-dominated forests in the late Pliensbachian. Dinosaurs are documented mainly from their trace fossils (tracks and coprolites). Six distinct track assemblages (stratigraphically separated ichnoassemblages) of different ages can be identified. Current evidence indicates that while Anomoepus tracks are abundant throughout the long Hettangian–late Pliensbachian interval, medium-sized to large ornithischian tracks do not occur below the lower–middle Hettangian transition zone, associated with the first major marine transgression in the region. Hettangian strata with different theropod tracks (Grallator, Anchisauripus, Eubrontes, Kayentapus, cf. Megalosauripus), small Anomoepus tracks, numerous medium-sized Anomoepus-like tracks, Moyenisauropus tracks, tetradactyl tracks of sauropodomorphs (cf. Pseudotetrasauropus) and oval-shaped tracks of sauropods (Parabrontopodus) significantly contrast with the higher part of the Lower Jurassic succession (upper Pliensbachian Drzewica Formation and middle–upper Toarcian Borucice Formation) containing new types of medium-sized to large theropod tracks (Therangospodus), small and medium-sized bird-like tridactyl tracks (cf. Trisauropodiscus, cf. Anomoepus), exceptionally large, oval-shaped sauropod tracks (Sauropoda indet.), and new types of medium-sized and large ornithischian tracks (cf. Deltapodus, cf. Anomoepus). This points to a noticeable difference between the Hettangian and late Pliensbachian–Toarcian dinosaur ichnofaunas and may facilitate the study of regional and global changes and correlations. Both the palaeofloras and dinosaur trace fossils document ecosystem diversity and ecosystem changes, presented here in review form. The nature of these changes requires more detailed study, but preliminary results suggest the occurrence of rather complex and pronounced transformations in the dinosaur communities of the Holy Cross Mountains region. Based on our observations, the most significant event in Early Jurassic ecosystems took place within the Hettangian (change in floristic composition, the emergence of new groups of dinosaurs), but we also found what we believe to be a record of a major faunal turnover across the late Pliensbachian–middle–late Toarcian interval.



Mesozoic; ecosystems; tetrapod tracks; plant macrofossils; palynomorphs; trace fossils

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