Morphometric and taphonomic study of a ray-finned fish assemblage (Lepidotes buddhabutrensis, Semionotidae) from the Late Jurassic-earliest Cretaceous of NE Thailand
Most Mesozoic vertebrate species are represented by scarce and incomplete specimens, preventing statistical studies of morphometric features. Moreover, rich vertebrate assemblages are rarely excavated in conditions that allow taphonomical studies. Lepidotes buddhabutrensis is a common species found in the Late Jurassic–Early Cretaceous locality of Phu Nam Jun, Phu Kradung Formation, in NE Thailand. Individuals, collected during systematic excavation since 2002, show great variations in preservation states and body postures. In this paper we study the mode of variation of morphometric features of the fish population, the growth mode, and the relationship between morphology and size. We assess the range of variation in preservation and taphonomy, based on arbitrarily defined scales, to test if vertical variations occur in the sample of individuals within the site. We test possible favoured orientation of specimens within the assemblage. In contrast to preliminary field observations, statistical analyses show that all individuals belong to a single Gaussian population and that gross morphological shape variations are related only to size during fish growth. L. buddhabutrensis shows a positive allometric growth for the pectoral to dorsal, and pectoral to anal fin distances, and a negative allometric growth for the unpaired fins (dorsal and anal fins lengths). We detected no relationships between the vertical location of the fishes within the fossiliferous deposit and the body shape of the specimens, nor between the state of preservation and the taphonomy, but there are significant differences in the state of preservation according to the position of the fishes in the fossiliferous deposit. The occurrence of a single Gaussian population and the absence of morphological and preservational variations through the depositional column are evidence that the fish assemblage is probably the result of a single mass mortality event. The apparent diversity in morphology is probably due to variations in the mode of preservation. The fish appear to have been oriented by a current at the time of deposition at the top of the fossiliferous deposit only.