In the Cretaceous of North America, environmental sensitivity and habitat specialization have been hypothesized to explain the surprisingly restricted geographic ranges of many large-bodied dinosaurs. Understanding the drivers behind this are key to determining broader trends of dinosaur species and community response to climate change under greenhouse conditions. However, previous studies of this question have commonly examined only small components of the paleo-ecosystem or operated without comparison to similar modern systems from which to constrain interpretations. Here we perform a high-resolution multi-taxic δ13C and δ18O study of a Cretaceous coastal floodplain ecosystem, focusing on species interactions and paleotemperature estimation, and compare with similar data from extant systems. Bioapatite δ13C preserves predator-prey offsets between tyrannosaurs and ornithischians (large herbivorous dinosaurs), and between aquatic reptiles and fish. Large ornithischians had broadly overlapping stable isotope ranges, contrary to hypothesized niche partitioning driven by specialization on coastal or inland subhabitat use. Comparisons to a modern analogue coastal floodplain show similar patterns of ecological guild structure and aquatic-terrestrial resource interchange. Multi-taxic oxygen isotope temperature estimations yield results for the Campanian of Alberta (Canada) consistent with the few other paleotemperature proxies available, and are validated when applied for extant species from a modern coastal floodplain, suggesting that this approach is a simple and effective avenue for paleoenvironmental reconstruction. Together, these new data suggest that dinosaur niche partitioning was more complex than previously hypothesized, and provide a framework for future research on dinosaur-dominated Mesozoic floodplain communities.
Large-scale stable isotope characterization of a Late Cretaceous dinosaur-dominated ecosystem
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T.M. Cullen, F.J. Longstaffe, U.G. Wortmann, L. Huang, F. Fanti, M.B. Goodwin, M.J. Ryan, D.C. Evans; Large-scale stable isotope characterization of a Late Cretaceous dinosaur-dominated ecosystem. Geology doi: https://doi.org/10.1130/G47399.1
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