Paleoecology

Having reconstructed the physiognomy of living beings in the past, it is also important to reconstruct their environment and life-style. The sediments in which fossil remains are found often provide important indications with regard to the geography of the environment in which the organisms lived, in particular for those organisms that are found in their “living position”, as they died and became fossilized, and therefore in their natural environment. Also the association with other fossil species can help us to understand in what type of environment they lived.
Think, for example, of the typical associations of organisms living on a coral reef. The study of the anatomy can provide further important indications: for example it was hypothesized that the large dinosaurs lived in water in order to support the large weight of their body and that their long neck was used to keep their head effortlessly out of the water. Other researchers, instead, hypothesized that these animals were the equivalent of giraffes today and that their long neck was necessary to reach the leaves on the higher branches of the trees that were isolated and rather bare, in an environment that was similar to the African Savannah today. Finding remains of food in the stomach of some fossils or traces of predation in others, such as signs of bites on the bones, but also the type and wearing of their teeth, help to understand the animal’s diet. The study of any wounds, fractures, traces of bone disease such as bone tuberculosis, arthrosis, infections and other degenerative diseases of the skeletal system, help to understand for example, what animals our fossil had to confront, if it was subjected to frequent aggressions, if it faced mortal duels with its opponents or only “skirmishes” that left scars, which healed in time, how long they could live…For example, many Jurassic sauropods show signs of bone degeneration, probably due to the weight of the large mass that their skeleton had to support.

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