Biology of the Sauropod Dinosaurs: Understanding the Life of Giants

By Nicole Klein; Kristian Remes et al. | Go to book overview

4
The Diet of Sauropod Dinosaurs: Implications of Carbon Isotope
Analysis on Teeth, Bones, and Plants

THOMAS TÜTKEN

SAUROPODS WERE MEGAHERBIVORES that fed predomi-
nantly on nonangiosperm vegetation such as gymno-
sperms, sphenophytes, and pteridophytes. In this chap-
ter, the potential of carbon isotope (δ13C) analysis in skele-
tal apatite for inferring the diet and niche partitioning of
sauropods was tested. The carbon isotope composition of
food plants is transferred with a metabolic offset to higher
trophic levels along the food chain, which suggests that
differences in isotopic composition of sauropod food
plants can be used to infer sauropod feeding behavior. For
this purpose, the δ13C values of sauropod bones and teeth,
primarily from the Late Jurassic Morrison Formation,
USA, and the Tendaguru Beds, Tanzania, East Africa, were
analyzed, as were the leaves of extant and fossil potential
sauropod food plants such as Araucaria, cycads, ferns,
horsetails, and ginkgo. The metabolic carbon isotope frac-
tionation between diet and enamel apatite estimated for
sauropods is 16‰. By means of this fractionation, a diet
based only on terrestrial C3 plants can be reconstructed for
sauropods. Therefore, sauropods did not ingest significant
amounts of plants with high, C4 plant-like δ13C values
such as marine algae or C4 plants. However, plants that
used crassulacean acid metabolism for biosynthesis and
possibly freshwater aquatic plants may have contributed
to the diet of sauropods. A more detailed discrimination of
exactly which type of food plants was consumed by sau-
ropods based on apatite δ13C values alone is difficult
because taxon-specific differences between C3 plants are
small and not well constrained. Mean enamel δ13C val-
ues of sympatric sauropods differ by approximately 3‰,
which may indicate a certain niche partitioning. Differ-
ences in mean δ13C values for the living representatives
of potential sauropod food plants suggest that a differ-
entiation between low-browsing taxa feeding on ferns
or horsetails with lower δ13C values and high-browsing
taxa feeding on conifers with higher δ13C values might
be possible.


Sauropod Feeding Behavior:
What Do We Know?

Sauropod dinosaurs are one of the most successful groups of dinosaurs in terms of taxon longevity (Late Triassic to Late Cretaceous), taxonomic diversity, and geographic distribution (Dodson 1990; Wilson 2002; Rees et al. 2004; Upchurch et al. 2004; Barrett & Upchurch 2005; Sander et al. 2010a). They reached their highest abundance and diversity during the Jurassic, and as megaherbivores, they had an important influence on terrestrial ecosystems (Upchurch & Barrett 2000). Sauropods lived in a gymnosperm- and pteridophytedominated environment with a variety of conifers, as well as some ginkgoes, cycads, ferns, seed ferns, and horsetails (Plate 4.1) that potentially constituted the major sauropod food plants (Coe et al. 1987; Tiffney 1997; Rees et al. 2004; Hummel

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