High-precision 40Ar/39Ar geochronology and the advent of North America's Late Cretaceous terrestrial fauna

Richard L. Cifelli, James I. Kirkland, Anne Weil, Alan L. Deino, Bart J. Kowallis

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A densely sampled, diverse new fauna from the uppermost Cedar Mountain Formation, Utah, indicates that the basic pattern of faunal composition for the Late Cretaceous of North America was already established by the Albian-Cenomanian boundary. Multiple, concordant 40Ar/ 39Ar determinations from a volcanic ash associated with the fauna have an average age of 98.39 ± 0.07 million years. The fauna of the Cedar Mountain Formation records the first global appearance of hadrosaurid dinosaurs, advanced lizard (e.g., Helodermatidae), and mammal (e.g., Marsupialia) groups, and the first North American appearance of other taxa such as tyrannosaurids, pachycephalosaurs, and snakes. Although the origin of many groups is unclear, combined biostratigraphic and phylogenetic evidence suggests an Old World, specifically Asian, origin for some of the taxa, an hypothesis that is consistent with existing evidence from tectonics and marine invertebrates. Large-bodied herbivores are mainly represented by low-level browsers, ornithopod dinosaurs, whose radiations have been hypothesized to be related to the initial diversification of angiosperm plants. Diversity at the largest body sizes (>106 g) is low, in contrast to both preceding and succeeding faunas; sauropods, which underwent demise in the Northern hemisphere coincident with the radiation of angiosperms, apparently went temporarily unreplaced by other megaherbivores. Morphologic and taxonomic diversity among small, omnivorous mammals, multituberculates, is also low. A later apparent increase in diversity occurred during the Campanian, coincident with the appearance of major fruit types among angiosperms, suggesting the possibility of adaptive response to new resources.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)11163-11167
Number of pages5
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number21
StatePublished - 14 Oct 1997


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