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Assemblage-level structure in Morrison Formation dinosaurs, Western Interior, USA

­The Upper Jurassic Morrison Formation is both geographically extensive and well-sampled, making it an ideal candidate for biogeographic analysis at both coarse and ‑ner scales. Historically, however, this has not translated into a consensus on patterns of ecological structure and connectivity, particularly with regard to the characteristic dinosaur faunas. Here, we use both traditional (genus richness, alpha and beta diversity) and bipartite network-based (biogeographic connectivity, local endemism, and average occurrence) measures to examine patterns of structure on a per-locality basis. Given the broad geographic range of the formation, we subdivide the Morrison Formation into four discrete regions based roughly on latitude and lithology—north (Montana, South Dakota, and northern Wyoming), west (Utah and western Colorado), east (central and eastern Colorado and southern Wyoming), and south (Arizona, New Mexico and Oklahoma). Further investigation revealed many coeval sites (ca. 152 Ma) in the east and west regions. Presence-absence data were also compared using network analysis to determine the presence and content of discrete subassemblages within the larger region-level assemblages. Based on our results, we favor reconstructions of the Morrison Formation as a ‘mosaic’ type environment over most of its depositional history, with patches of open environments interspersed with more closed, forested regions. ­is is suggested by relatively low rates of local endemism (patches are consistent in plant and animal structure) and connectivity across the majority of the formation, as well as the recovery of three non-overlapping assemblages dominated by dierent guilds of herbivorous dinosaurs.

The Lower Cretaceous in east-central Utah—The Cedar Mountain Formation and its bounding strata

Although only recognized as a discrete stratigraphic unit since 1944, the Cedar Mountain Formation represents tens of millions of years of geological and biological history on the central Colorado Plateau. This field guide represents an attempt to pull together the results of recent research on the lithostratigraphy, chronostratigraphy, sequence stratigraphy, chemostratigraphy, and biostratigraphy of these medial Mesozoic strata that document the dynamic and complex geological history of this region. Additionally, these data provide a framework by which to examine the history of terrestrial faunas during the final breakup of Pangaea. In fact, the medial Mesozoic faunal record of eastern Utah should be considered a keystone in understanding the history of life across the northern hemisphere. Following a period of erosion and sediment bypass spanning the Jurassic–Cretaceous boundary, sedimentation across the quiescent Colorado Plateau began during the Early Cretaceous. Thickening of these basal Cretaceous strata across the northern Paradox Basin indicate that salt tectonics may have been the predominant control on deposition in this region leading to the local preservation of fossiliferous strata, while sediment bypass continued elsewhere. Thickening of overlying Aptian strata west across the San Rafael Swell provides direct evidence of the earliest development of a foreland basin with Sevier thrusting that postdates geochemical evidence for the initial development of a rain shadow.

Tracking dinosaurs in BLM canyon country, Utah

The remarkably extensive and abundant Mesozoic-aged exposures on public lands around Moab have made this region well known for ichnofossils. The nearly complete record of Upper Triassic through Lower Cretaceous rocks exposed in this area is well known for its sheer abundance of tracks and traces. This three-day field trip will visit many important classic and new sites exposed in the Bureau of Land Management’s Canyon Country District. This field trip guidebook will give one an overview of the major sites we will visit, as well as a brief summary of work previously done in these areas.

Rise of the Erg—Paleontology and paleoenvironments of the Triassic-Jurassic transition in Northeastern Utah

This field trip focuses on the Late Triassic-Early Jurassic transition in northeastern Utah. This transition records one of the most striking terrestrial environmental transformations in the history of North America, wherein the fluvio-lacustrine Chinle Formation is transgressed by the vast erg system of the Nugget (Wingate+Navajo)/Navajo/Aztec Sandstones. Exposures in northeastern Utah are ideal for studying this transition as they are closely spaced and accessible. The uppermost Chinle Formation beds are lacustrine/fluvial fine-grained sediments which are overlain by increasingly drier, sandy, transitional beds. The non-eolian basal beds of the Nugget Sandstone preserve a Late Triassic ichnofauna, with some sites including Brachychirotherium tracks. Large-scale dune deposits comprise most of the Nugget Sandstone and contain vertebrate (Brasilichnium) tracks and a diverse invertebrate ichnofauna. Interdunal, carbonate, spring mounds, as much as 3 m tall, fed carbonate freshwater lake deposits containing gastropod body fossils and invertebrate ichnofossils. Another lacustrine deposit, located at the Saints & Sinners Quarry, is on the shoreline of a non-carbonate interdunal lake/oasis. Over 11,500 bones have been collected from the site and represent two theropod dinosaur taxa, sphenodonts, sphenosuchians, a pterosaur, and drepanosaurs (with many complete, three-dimensional, articulated skeletons). In addition to bones, dinosaur trackways are also preserved in shoreline and other interdunal beds. The fauna shows that this interdunal area of the Nugget Sandstone was the site of intense biological activity. The drepanosaurs are chronologically significant in that they are restricted globally to the Late Triassic, indicating that at least the lower one-fourth to one-third of the formation is Late Triassic in age.

Stratigraphy and fossil plants from the Cutler Formation (Late Paleozoic) and their paleoclimatic implications, eastern Paradox Basin, Colorado

Exposures of the late Paleozoic Cutler Formation, near the town of Gateway, Colorado, have traditionally been interpreted as the product of alluvial-fan deposition along the western flank of the Uncompahgre uplift and within the easternmost portion of the Paradox Basin. The Paradox Basin formed between the western margin of the Uncompahgre uplift, a segment of the Ancestral Rocky Mountains, and the western paleoshoreline of the North American portion of Pangea. This part of Pangea is commonly thought to have experienced semi-arid to arid conditions and warm temperatures during the Pennsylvanian and Permian. We present stratigraphic and fossil plant evidence in this paper to support prior interpretations that the Cutler near Gateway, Colorado, was deposited by alluvial fans that hosted localized wetland areas. Our findings are consistent with the results of prior studies that have suggested the climate in the area was warm, semi-arid, and ice-free at the time the plants described in this paper were living. Plant fossils collected from the Cutler Formation came from two sites in The Palisade Wilderness Study Area (managed by the U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management) of western Colorado. The stratigraphic sections at the sites were composed mostly of pebble to cobble conglomerate and sandstone, but the fossil plants were mainly preserved in fine-grained intervals (fine-grained sandstone to siltstone). The preservation of plant fossils in the proximal Cutler Formation is remarkable because the surrounding sections consist mostly of conglomerate and sandstone interpreted as fluvial and debris-flow deposits. The fine-grained strata containing the plant horizons must have been deposited in a wet and protected setting, possibly a spring-fed abandoned channel on the alluvial fan. The plants and their surrounding sediment must have been rapidly buried in order to allow for long-term preservation of the fossils. It seems likely that vegetation was abundant in and adjacent to low-lying wet areas on the fan’s surface, based on the abundance of plant fossils found at the two sites. The fossil plant assemblage includes Calamites, Walchia, and Pecopteris. The flora are interpreted to have lived near the apex of the alluvial-fan system. These fossils suggest that warm and at least seasonally and locally wet conditions existed in the area during the time that the plants were growing. More arid conditions during the late Paleozoic are suggested by the characteristics of some of the time-equivalent and near time-equivalent rocks exposed to the west of the study area in the central Paradox Basin.

Recalibrated legacy 40Ar/39Ar ages for the Upper Jurassic Morrison Formation, Western Interior, U.S.A.

As a result of recent updating of decay constants and standard ages used for 40Ar/39Ar dating, it is necessary to recalibrate legacy ages obtained with older methods. These recalibrations bring legacy 40Ar/39Ar ages into better agreement with ages obtained using 238U/206Pb dating methods. We present nine recalibrated 40Ar/39Ar ages for the Upper Jurassic Morrison Formation of the Western Interior, U.S.A., along with the individual geographic and stratigraphic locations for each sample. These recalibrated ages will be useful for researchers looking to place better age constraints on the flora and fauna of the Morrison Formation, as well as for those working to understand stratigraphic relationships across the formation. The recalibrated ages also can now be used reliably for comparisons with newer 238U/206Pb ages obtained for the Morrison Formation.

A guide to the bedrock geology of Range Creek Canyon, Book Cliffs, Utah

Range Creek Canyon, located within the Book Cliffs of eastern Utah, contains some of the most abundant and well-preserved archaeological sites in North America. Its cliffs and landscapes provide a canvas for rock art panels and a foundation for granaries, ruins, and artifacts of the prehistoric Fremont Indians. In order to place these Range Creek sites within a geologic context, an illustrated geologic field guide was created for the general public. The guide focuses on the major bedrock formations that crop out in the canyon, as well as many indicators that facilitate geologic interpretation of these rocks. Outcrops of the Paleogene Flagstaff and Colton Formations (~58 to 48 million years old) in Range Creek Canyon were investigated in order to interpret their depositional environments. The lacustrine Flagstaff Limestone contains limestone beds and fossils of freshwater gastropods, oysters, and turtles indicative of lake environments. The unit coarsens upward with an increase of interbedded sandstone, which was deposited in and near ancient river channels. This trend suggests dynamic levels of the ancient lake, with overall encroachment of river systems near the contact with the Colton Formation. The fluvial Colton Formation is characterized by discontinuous, stacked beds of sandstone, representing a succession of migrating river channels and floodplain deposits. The Colton Formation exhibits a general upward trend of increased grain size and increased channel belt (continuous sandstone beds) frequency and lateral extent, implying a transition to higher energy river systems through time. These dynamic, ancient rivers may have been flowing generally northward into Eocene Lake Uinta, recorded in deposits of the Green River Formation north of Range Creek Canyon.

The major pre-Mississippian unconformity in Rock Canyon, central Wasatch Range, Utah

In central Utah, the major pre-Mississippian unconformity is fairly well understood at most of the localities where it is recognized. However, the unconformity is more enigmatic in Rock Canyon of the central Wasatch Range. At this locality, dolomitization of most pre-Mississippian rocks obscures stratigraphic identification of Devonian and older units. The absence of any identifiable angular relationship further complicates resolution. Because of this, both identification of the stratigraphic level of the unconformity and, consequently, its magnitude remain controversial. Large-size dolomite samples taken in Rock Canyon at closely spaced intervals for the 3.6-m directly below definite Upper Devonian rocks yield microfossils, including conodonts, in the uppermost 1.6-m of that interval that indicate no unconformity exists between the Cambrian Maxfield Limestone and the Upper Devonian-Lower Mississippian Fitchville Dolomite at the horizon previously identified as unconformable. Rather, an unknown thickness of dolomitized Upper Devonian Pinyon Peak Formation and probable older rock (possibly Bluebell Dolomite and Victoria Formation) occurs between the top of definite Maxfield and base of the Fitchville. The identification of the unconformity horizon remains unknown. Our preliminary work outlines a promising procedure for future understanding of the magnitude and stratigraphic level of the unconformity.