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Previous studies on microtaphonomy have identified multiple types of organic microstructures in fossil vertebrates from a variety of time periods and past environmental settings. This study investigates potential taphonomic, paleoenvironmental, and paleoclimatic controls on soft tissue and cellular preservation in fossil bone. To this end, fifteen vertebrate fossils were studied: eight fossils collected from the Oligocene Sharps Formation of the Arikaree Group in Badlands National Park, South Dakota, and seven fossils from formations in the underlying White River Group, including the Oligocene Brule Formation of Badlands National Park, and the Eocene Chadron Formation of Flagstaff Rim, Wyoming; Toadstool Geologic Park, Nebraska; and Badlands National Park, South Dakota. A portion of each fossil was demineralized to identify any organic microstructures preserved within the fossils. We investigated several factors which may have influenced cellular/soft tissue decay and/or preservation pathways, including taxonomic identity, paleoclimatic conditions, depositional environment, and general diagenetic history (as interpreted through thin section analysis). Soft tissue microstructures were preserved in all fossil samples, and cellular structures morphologically consistent with osteocytes were recovered from 11 of the 15 fossil specimens. Preservation of these microstructures was found to be independent of taxonomy, paleoclimate regime, apatite crystallinity, depositional environment, and general diagenetic history, indicating that biogeochemical reactions operating within microenvironments within skeletal tissues, such as within individual osteocyte lacunae or Haversian canals, may exert stronger controls on soft tissue and biomolecular decay or stabilization than external environmental (or climatic) conditions.


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Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.