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What the dinosaur record says about extinction scenarios

By
J. David Archibald
J. David Archibald
Department of Biology, San Diego State University, San Diego, California 92182-4614, USA
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Published:
September 01, 2014

The record of dinosaurs over the last 10 m.y. of the Cretaceous, as well as surrounding the Cretaceous-Paleogene boundary, helps to define extinction scenarios. Although Late Cretaceous dinosaur fossils occur on all present-day continents, only in North America do we find a terrestrial vertebrate fossil record spanning the Cretaceous-Paleogene boundary, although promising work may yield comparable records in South America, India, China, and Europe. For the present then, the North American record represents the proxy for our knowledge of dinosaur extinction. Over the last 10 m.y. of the Cretaceous (late Campanian to late Maastrichtian) in the northern part of the western interior of North America, the number of nonavian dinosaur species dropped from 49 to 25, almost a 50% reduction, even though a 16% greater extent of fossil-bearing exposures record the last dinosaurs in the latest Cretaceous in the western interior. Important, but less-well-exposed, nonavian-dinosaur–bearing units suggest this drop occurred around, or at least commenced by, the Campanian-Maastrichtian boundary. These losses began during climatic fluctuations, occurring during and possibly in part caused by the last major regressive cycle of the Cretaceous, which also reduced the expanse of the low coastal plains inhabited by nonavian dinosaurs. The pulse of Deccan Trap emplacement that began some time later in the latest Cretaceous was also likely a major driver of climatic change. As for the dinosaur record near the Cretaceous-Paleogene boundary, even the best-known records from North America remain enigmatic and open to interpretation. Newer studies suggest some decline in at least relative abundance approaching the Cretaceous-Paleogene boundary, but the cause (or causes) for the final extinction (if it was the case) of non-avian dinosaurs remains unresolved, although the Chicxulub impact undoubtedly played a major role.

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GSA Special Papers

Volcanism, Impacts, and Mass Extinctions: Causes and Effects

Gerta Keller
Gerta Keller
Department of Geosciences, Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey 08544, USA
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Andrew C. Kerr
Andrew C. Kerr
School of Earth and Ocean Sciences, Cardiff University, Park Place, Cardiff CF10 3AT, Wales, UK
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Geological Society of America
Volume
505
ISBN print:
9780813725055
Publication date:
September 01, 2014

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