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Permian Turducken

First direct evidence of a vertebrate three-level trophic chain in the
fossil record

Proceedings of the Royal Society B 275 (January 22, 2008): 181-186      DOI

Jürgen Kriwet, Florian Witzmann, Stefanie Klug, Ulrich H.J. Heidtke

We describe the first known occurrence of a Permian shark specimen
preserving two temnospondyl amphibians in its digestive tract as well as the
remains of an acanthodian fish, which was ingested by one of the
temnospondyls. This exceptional find provides for the first time direct
evidence of a vertebrate three-level food chain in the fossil record with
the simultaneous preservation of three trophic levels. Our analysis shows
that small-sized Lower Permian xenacanthid sharks of the genus Triodus
preyed on larval piscivorous amphibians. The recorded trophic interaction
can be explained by the adaptation of certain xenacanthids to fully
freshwater environments and the fact that in these same environments, large
temnospondyls occupied the niche of modern crocodiles. This unique faunal
association has not been documented after the Permian and Triassic.
Therefore, this Palaeozoic three-level food chain provides strong and
independent support for changes in aquatic trophic chain structures through

(So remember the Permian turducken recipe: acanthodian in a temnospondyl in
a xenacanth.)

Thomas R. Holtz, Jr.
Email: tholtz@umd.edu   Phone: 301-405-4084
Office: Centreville 1216                        
Senior Lecturer, Vertebrate Paleontology
Dept. of Geology, University of Maryland
Fax: 301-314-9661               

Faculty Director, Earth, Life & Time Program, College Park Scholars
Fax: 301-405-0796

Mailing Address:        Thomas R. Holtz, Jr.
                        Department of Geology
                        Building 237, Room 1117
                        University of Maryland
                        College Park, MD 20742 USA