Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, Department of


Date of this Version



Published in Earth-Science Reviews 193 (2019) 109–145

DOI: 10.1016/j.earscirev.2019.04.008


Copyright © 2019 Elsevier B.V. Used by permission.


The morphology of fossil footprints is the basis of vertebrate footprint ichnology. However, the processes acting during and after trace fossil registration which are responsible for the final morphology have never been precisely defined, resulting in a dearth of nomenclature. Therefore, we discuss the concepts of ichnotaphonomy, ichnostratinomy, taphonomy, biostratinomy, registration and diagenesis and describe the processes acting on footprint morphology. In order to evaluate the morphological quality of tetrapod footprints, we introduce the concept of morphological preservation, which is related to the morphological quality of footprints (M-preservation, acronym MP), and distinguish it from physical preservation (P-preservation, acronym PP), which characterizes whether or not a track is eliminated by taphonomic and diagenetic processes. M-preservation includes all the morphological features produced during and after track registration prior to its study, and may be divided into substages (ichnostratinomic, registrational, taphonomic, stratinomic, diagenetic). Moreover, we propose an updated numerical preservation scale for M-preservation. It ranges from 0.0 (worst preservation) to 3.0 (best preservation); intermediate values may be used and specific features may be indicated by letters. In vertebrate footprint ichnotaxonomy, we regard the anatomy-consistent morphology and to a lesser extent the trackway pattern as the only acceptable ichnotaxobases. Only footprints showing a good morphological preservation (grade 2.0–3.0) are useful in ichnotaxonomy, whereas ichnotaxa based on poor morphological preservation (grade 0.0–1.5) are considered ichnotaphotaxa (nomina dubia) characterized by extramorphologies. We applied the preservation scale on examples from the Palaeozoic to the present time, including three ichnotaphotaxa and 18 anatomy-consistent ichnotaxa/morphotypes attributed to several vertebrate footprint producers. Results indicate the utility, feasibility and suitability of this method for the entire vertebrate footprint record in any lithofacies, strongly recommending its use in future ichnotaxonomic studies.