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Article: Palaeontology meets metacommunity ecology: the Maastrichtian dinosaur fossil record of North America as a case study

Palaeontology - Vol. 64 - Cover Image
Publication: Palaeontology
Volume: 64
Part: 3
Publication Date: May 2021
Page(s): 335 357
Author(s): Jorge García-Girón, Jani Heino, Janne Alahuhta, Alfio Alessandro Chiarenza, and Stephen L. Brusatte
Addition Information

How to Cite

GARCíA-GIRóN, J., HEINO, J., ALAHUHTA, J., CHIARENZA, A.A., BRUSATTE, S.L. 2021. . Palaeontology, 64, 3, 335-357. DOI: /doi/10.1111/pala.12526

Author Information

  • Jorge García-Girón - Ecology Unit University of León Campus de Vegazana S/N 24071 León Spain
  • Jani Heino - Freshwater Centre Finnish Environment Institute PO Box 413 FI-90014 Oulu Finland
  • Janne Alahuhta - Geography Research Unit University of Oulu PO Box 3000 FI-90014 Oulu Finland
  • Alfio Alessandro Chiarenza - Department of Earth Sciences University College London London WC1E 6BT UK
  • Stephen L. Brusatte - School of GeoSciences Grant Institute University of Edinburgh James Hutton Road Edinburgh EH9 3FE UK

Publication History

  • Issue published online: 19 April 2021
  • Manuscript Accepted: 11 December 2020
  • Manuscript Received: 02 September 2020

Funded By

University of León. Grant Number: 2017
Spanish Ministry of Economy and Industry. Grant Number: CGL2017-84176R
Junta of Castilla y León. Grant Number: LE004G18
Academy of Finland. Grant Numbers: 331957, 322652
Research Assistant at University College London
European Research Council Starting Grant. Grant Numbers: ERC StG 2017, 756226

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Documenting the patterns and potential associated processes of ancient biotas has always been a central challenge in palaeontology. Over recent decades, intense debate has focused on the organization of dinosaur-dominated communities, yet no general consensus has been reached on how these communities were organized in a spatial context. Here, we used analytical routines typically applied in metacommunity ecology to provide novel insights into dinosaurian distributions across the latest Cretaceous of North America. To do this, we combined fossil occurrences with functional, phylogenetic and palaeoenvironmental modelling, and adopted the perspective that more reasonable conclusions on palaeoecological reconstructions can be gained from studies that consider the organization of biotas along ecological gradients at multiple spatial scales. Our results showed that dinosaurs were restricted in range to different parts of the Hell Creek Formation, prompting the recognition of discrete and compartmentalized faunal areas during the Maastrichtian at fine-grained scales, whereas taxa with the broadest ranges included those with narrower distributions when combining data from various geological formations across the Western Interior of North America. Although groups of dinosaurs had coincident range boundaries, their communities responded to multiple ecologically-important gradients when compensating for differences in sampling effort. Metacommunity structures of both ornithischians and theropods were correlated with climatic barriers and potential trophic relationships between herbivores and carnivores, thereby suggesting that dinosaurian faunas were shaped by physiological constraints, limited food resources abundance, and a combination of bottom-up and top-down forces across multiple spatial grains and extents.

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