Coprolites are traditionally analyzed from a morphological perspective. Few studies exist from an organic geochemical perspective, and most of these consider recent specimens. This study represents an analysis of coprolites from deep time, using both traditional one-dimensional and also two-dimensional gas chromatography-mass spectrometry. We find organic molecules preserved in coprolites from the Triassic, and that both dietary habits of the defecators and paleoenvironment can be interpreted using comparative distributions of biomarker abundances in the coprolites. Steranes having 27 carbon atoms are known to be derived from animal steroids whereas those with 29 carbon atoms are known to be derived from plant steroids. The predominance of steranes with 27 carbon atoms over those with 29 carbon atoms in a non-marine environment was interpreted as evidence for the defecator(s) being predominantly carnivorous or possibly omnivorous. A series of tricyclic terpanes ranging from C19 to C28 was examined to determine the environment. The present study suggests that one or possibly all of the defecators may have been small-medium carnivores that lived in an aquatic or near aquatic setting.
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Vol. 34 • No. 10