Earliest evidence of herd-living and age segregation amongst dinosaurs
DIEGO POL; ADRIANA MANCUSO; ROGER SMITH; CLAUDIA MARSICANO; RAMEZANI, JAHANDAR; CERDA, IGNACIO; ALEJANDRO OTERO; VINCENT FERNANDEZ
Sauropodomorph dinosaurs dominated the herbivorous niches during the first 40 million years of dinosaur history (Late Triassic?Early Jurassic), yet palaeobiological factors that influenced their evolutionary success are not fully understood. For instance, knowledge on their behaviour is limited, although herding in sauropodomorphs has been well documented in derived sauropods from the Late Jurassic and Cretaceous. Here we report an exceptional fossil occurrence from Patagonia that includes over 100 eggs and skeletal specimens of 80 individuals of the early sauropodomorph Mussaurus patagonicus, ranging from embryos to fully-grown adults, with an Early Jurassic age as determined by high-precision U-Pb zircon geochronology. Most specimens were found in a restricted area and stratigraphic interval, with some articulated skeletons grouped in clusters of individuals of approximately the same age. Our new discoveries indicate the presence of social cohesion throughout life and age-segregation within a herd structure, in addition to colonial nesting behaviour. These findings provide the earliest evidence of complex social behaviour in Dinosauria, predating previous records by at least 40 My. The presence of sociality in different sauropodomorph lineages suggests a possible Triassic origin of this behaviour, which may have influenced their early success as large terrestrial herbivores.