OPEN PloS one | 29 Apr 2015
JS Anderson, T Smithson, CF Mansky, T Meyer and J Clack
The lack of fossil tetrapod bearing deposits in the earliest Carboniferous (‘Romer’s Gap’) has provoked some recent discussions regarding the proximal cause, with three explanations being offered: environmental, taphonomic, and collection failure. One of the few, and earliest, windows into this time is the locality of Blue Beach exposed in the Tournaisian deposits at Horton Bluff lying along the Avon River near Hantsport, Nova Scotia, Canada. This locality has long been known but, because the fossils were deposited in high energy settings they are almost always disarticulated, so the fauna has not been described in detail. Recent intensive collection has revealed a diverse assemblage of material, including for the first time associated elements, which permits an evaluation of the faunal constituents at the locality. Although not diagnosable to a fine taxonomic level, sufficient apomorphies are present to identify representatives from numerous clades known from more complete specimens elsewhere. The evidence suggests a diverse fauna was present, including whatcheeriids and embolomeres. A single humerus previously had been attributed to a colosteid, but there is some uncertainty with this identification. Additional elements suggest the presence of taxa otherwise only known from the late Devonian. Depositional biases at the locality favor tetrapod fossils from larger individuals, but indirect evidence from trackways and tantalizing isolated bones evidences the presence of small taxa that remain to be discovered. The fossils from Blue Beach demonstrate that when windows into the fauna of ‘Romer’s Gap’ are found a rich diversity of tetrapods will be shown to be present, contra arguments that suggested this hiatus in the fossil record was due to extrinsic factors such as atmospheric oxygen levels. They also show that the early tetrapod fauna is not easily divisible into Devonian and Carboniferous faunas, suggesting that some tetrapods passed through the end Devonian extinction event unaffected.
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