Behavioral and Social Complexity

The social and behavioral complexity of extinct animals might seem irretrievably lost (other than what might be inferred from morphology or the known history of social clades). In fact, the preservation of tracks, trails, and burrows provides insights into behavior, with the constraint that such trace fossils can rarely be uniquely associated with particular species (Seilacher, 2007). More commonly, particular trace fossils could be produced by many distantly related species. Worms of several different phyla can produce similar burrows. Nonetheless, trace fossils can provide considerable insight into the complex behavioral repertoires of their makers. Vertebrate trace fossils on land provide similar insights, for example, into herding behavior among some dinosaurs, or burrowing among Late Permian dicynodonts in South Africa (personal observation). Other evidence of behavioral complexity comes from the characteristic patterns preserved in fossil leaves by herbivorous insects, reflecting both the behavior and mouthpart morphology of various herbivorous insect groups (Labandeira, 2006). One means to track changes in behavioral complexity during a mass extinction is by documenting changes in trace fossil abundance and diversity.

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