Taphonomy is the research field that studies the destruction and preservation processes of organism remains. Understanding these processes is important for identifying the way in which fossil assemblages were formed.

For instance, taphonomy research enables us to determine whether a specific fossil assemblage represents the fauna that dwelled in that area in the past, or the dietary preferences of a specific predator species. As part of Orr Comay's recently completed Ph.D. research (supervised by Prof. Tamar Dayan), the remains of prey found in the pellets of different owls (little owl, barn owl, long-eared owl, tawny owl and Eurasian eagle-owl) that live in the Zoological Garden, were examined. The owls were fed with house mice and their pellets were then examined in order to detect patterns in the damage  caused to the prey remains – taphonomy prints. The research employed traditional taphonomic indexes (fragmentation, corrosion, and relative frequencies of skeletal parts) and also a modern taphonomic index – the fracture index, which examines cracks and marginal damage to limb bones, whose taphonomical significance had been ignored until now. The results of this research will help to identify owl species in fossil assemblages at a higher probability than had been possible to date.   

An owl pellet as found in the field, photo: Orr Comay

An owl pellet as found in the field, photo: Orr Comay

Prey remains from disintegrated owl pellets, Photo: Orr Comay

Prey remains from disintegrated owl pellets, Photo: Orr Comay

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