Jennifer Botha-Brink (2017)
Burrowing in Lystrosaurus: preadaptation to a postextinction environment?
Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology Article: e1365080
Lystrosaurus is iconic for surviving the Permo-Triassic Mass Extinction and becoming the most abundant terrestrial vertebrate during the Early Triassic. Previous reports of skeletal remains of the Triassic species being found in fossilized burrows hint at a possible reason for its success, but unequivocal evidence showing that Lystrosaurus individuals were the burrow makers was lacking. I present here the first articulated skeleton of Lystrosaurus in a fossilized burrow from the Lower Triassic of the South African Karoo Basin, along with taphonomic evidence indicating that this individual was the burrow maker. The species is identified as L. curvatus, the only Lystrosaurus species recovered from above and below the inferred Permo-Triassic extinction horizon. It provides the first evidence of burrowing in a Permian species of Lystrosaurus, suggesting that this behavior was more prevalent than previously thought. Based on its size, the specimen is inferred to be a juvenile, showing that Lystrosaurus was capable of excavating burrows at young ontogenetic stages. The abundance of Lystrosaurus body fossils and similar-sized burrows from Lower Triassic strata suggests that burrowing played a pivotal role in the success of this genus in harsh, unpredictable postextinction conditions. Given the abundance of these burrows throughout the Lower Triassic Lystrosaurus Assemblage Zone, Lystrosaurus may have acted as an ecosystem engineer and refuge provider for other species, which may help to explain the high species diversity in the lowermost Triassic in the Karoo Basin.