Comparison of avian and non-avian reptile digestion on small mammal remains and the implications for palaeoecological interpretations.

Todd Bennett, Georgia College & State University


Small mammals are a uniquely important group in understanding paleoecology due to their restricted habitat and sensitivity to changing environments. The use of small mammal fossils has been widely documented in taphonomical and paleontological research, mainly in the form of owl pellet analysis. However, few studies have focused on other animal clades, though a small number have examined digestive damage due to mammals and reptiles. Research presented here examines digestive modification of small mammals caused by various species of snakes, a previously unresearched taxa, compared to previous work done on owl pellets. This study lays out a systematic approach for sample collection from snake remains as well as detection and characterization of digestion modification using stereo microscopy. Comparisons of snake remains to owl remains shed light on community dynamics in ancient small mammal assemblages. Preliminary analysis of owl pellets and snake fecal remains suggest a significant difference in the destructive capacity between the two digestive systems with snakes causing extreme modification and owls causing light modification.