Collaborative Research: Late Cretaceous-Paleogene Vertebrates from Antarctica: Implications for Paleobiogeography, Paleoenvironment, and Extinction in Polar Gondwana
The role that Antarctica has played in vertebrate evolution and paleobiogeography during the Late Cretaceous and early Paleogene is largely unknown. Evidence indicates that Antarctica was home to a diverse flora during the Late Cretaceous and Paleogene, yet the vertebrates that must have existed on the continent remain virtually unknown. To fill this gap, the PIs have formed the Antarctic Vertebrate Paleontology Initiative (AVPI), whose goal is to search for and collect Late Cretaceous-Paleogene vertebrate fossils in Antarctica at localities that have never been properly surveyed, as well as in areas of proven potential. Two field seasons are proposed for the James Ross Island Group on the northeastern margin of the Antarctic Peninsula. Expected finds include chondrichthyan and osteichthyan fishes, marine reptiles, ornithischian and non-avian theropod dinosaurs, ornithurine birds, and therian and non-therian mammals. Hypotheses to be tested include: 1) multiple extant bird and/or therian mammal lineages originated during the Cretaceous and survived the K-Pg boundary extinction event; 2) the "Scotia Portal" permitted the dispersal of continental vertebrates between Antarctica and South America prior to the latest Cretaceous and through to the late Paleocene or early Eocene; 3) Late Cretaceous non-avian dinosaurs from Antarctica are closely related to coeval taxa from other Gondwanan landmasses; 4) terminal Cretaceous marine reptile faunas from southern Gondwana differed from contemporaneous but more northerly assemblages; and 5) the collapse of Antarctic ichthyofaunal diversity during the K-Pg transition was triggered by a catastrophic extinction.
The PIs will communicate discoveries to audiences through a variety of channels, such as the Dinosaurs in Their Time exhibition at Carnegie Museum of Natural History and the outreach programs of the Environmental Science Institute of the University of Texas at Austin. In addition, Carnegie Museum will launch a student-oriented programming initiative using AVPI research as a primary focus. This array of activities will help some 2,000 Pittsburgh-area undergraduates to explore the relevance of deep-time discoveries to critical modern issues. The AVPI will provide research opportunities for eight undergraduate and three graduate students, several of whom will receive field training in Antarctica. Fossils will be accessioned into the Carnegie Museum collection, and made accessible virtually through the NSF-funded Digital Morphology library at University of Texas.
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