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Concept: Cretaceous–Tertiary extinction event


Pterosaurs were the first vertebrates to evolve powered flight and the largest animals to ever take wing. The pterosaurs persisted for over 150 million years before disappearing at the end of the Cretaceous, but the patterns of and processes driving their extinction remain unclear. Only a single family, Azhdarchidae, is definitively known from the late Maastrichtian, suggesting a gradual decline in diversity in the Late Cretaceous, with the Cretaceous-Paleogene (K-Pg) extinction eliminating a few late-surviving species. However, this apparent pattern may simply reflect poor sampling of fossils. Here, we describe a diverse pterosaur assemblage from the late Maastrichtian of Morocco that includes not only Azhdarchidae but the youngest known Pteranodontidae and Nyctosauridae. With 3 families and at least 7 species present, the assemblage represents the most diverse known Late Cretaceous pterosaur assemblage and dramatically increases the diversity of Maastrichtian pterosaurs. At least 3 families-Pteranodontidae, Nyctosauridae, and Azhdarchidae-persisted into the late Maastrichtian. Late Maastrichtian pterosaurs show increased niche occupation relative to earlier, Santonian-Campanian faunas and successfully outcompeted birds at large sizes. These patterns suggest an abrupt mass extinction of pterosaurs at the K-Pg boundary.

Concepts: Pterodactyloidea, Mammal, Pteranodon, Late Cretaceous, Cretaceous–Tertiary extinction event, Dinosaur, Cretaceous, Pterosaur


The cause of the end-Cretaceous (KPg) mass extinction is still debated due to difficulty separating the influences of two closely timed potential causal events: eruption of the Deccan Traps volcanic province and impact of the Chicxulub meteorite. Here we combine published extinction patterns with a new clumped isotope temperature record from a hiatus-free, expanded KPg boundary section from Seymour Island, Antarctica. We document a 7.8±3.3 °C warming synchronous with the onset of Deccan Traps volcanism and a second, smaller warming at the time of meteorite impact. Local warming may have been amplified due to simultaneous disappearance of continental or sea ice. Intra-shell variability indicates a possible reduction in seasonality after Deccan eruptions began, continuing through the meteorite event. Species extinction at Seymour Island occurred in two pulses that coincide with the two observed warming events, directly linking the end-Cretaceous extinction at this site to both volcanic and meteorite events via climate change.

Concepts: Global warming, Deccan Plateau, Impact event, Extinction event, Cretaceous, Deccan Traps, Cretaceous–Tertiary extinction event, Dinosaur


Birds stand out from other egg-laying amniotes by producing relatively small numbers of large eggs with very short incubation periods (average 11-85 d). This aspect promotes high survivorship by limiting exposure to predation and environmental perturbation, allows for larger more fit young, and facilitates rapid attainment of adult size. Birds are living dinosaurs; their rapid development has been considered to reflect the primitive dinosaurian condition. Here, nonavian dinosaurian incubation periods in both small and large ornithischian taxa are empirically determined through growth-line counts in embryonic teeth. Our results show unexpectedly slow incubation (2.8 and 5.8 mo) like those of outgroup reptiles. Developmental and physiological constraints would have rendered tooth formation and incubation inherently slow in other dinosaur lineages and basal birds. The capacity to determine incubation periods in extinct egg-laying amniotes has implications for dinosaurian embryology, life history strategies, and survivorship across the Cretaceous-Paleogene mass extinction event.

Concepts: Reptile, Cretaceous–Tertiary extinction event, Extinction event, Extinction, Dinosaur


Medullary bone (MB), an estrogen-dependent reproductive tissue present in extant gravid birds, is texturally, histologically and compositionally distinct from other bone types. Phylogenetic proximity led to the proposal that MB would be present in non-avian dinosaurs, and recent studies have used microscopic, morphological, and regional homologies to identify this reproductive tissue in both theropod and ornithischian dinosaurs. Here, we capitalize on the unique chemical and histological fingerprint of MB in birds to characterize, at the molecular level, MB in the non-avian theropod Tyrannosaurus rex (MOR 1125), and show that the retention of original molecular components in fossils allows deeper physiological and evolutionary questions to be addressed.

Concepts: Bird, Molecular biology, Tyrannosaurus, Cretaceous–Tertiary extinction event, Saurischia, Theropoda, Paleontology, Dinosaur


Eruptive phenomena at all scales, from hydrothermal geysers to flood basalts, can potentially be initiated or modulated by external mechanical perturbations. We present evidence for the triggering of magmatism on a global scale by the Chicxulub meteorite impact at the Cretaceous-Paleogene (K-Pg) boundary, recorded by transiently increased crustal production at mid-ocean ridges. Concentrated positive free-air gravity and coincident seafloor topographic anomalies, associated with seafloor created at fast-spreading rates, suggest volumes of excess magmatism in the range of ~105to 106km3. Widespread mobilization of existing mantle melt by post-impact seismic radiation can explain the volume and distribution of the anomalous crust. This massive but short-lived pulse of marine magmatism should be considered alongside the Chicxulub impact and Deccan Traps as a contributor to geochemical anomalies and environmental changes at K-Pg time.

Concepts: Flood basalt, Plate tectonics, Dinosaur, Shiva crater, Chicxulub crater, Deccan Traps, Cretaceous–Tertiary extinction event, Basalt


The extinct group of the Pycnodontiformes is one of the most characteristic components of the Mesozoic and early Cenozoic fish faunas. These ray-finned fishes, which underwent an explosive morphological diversification during the Late Cretaceous, are generally regarded as typical shell-crushers. Here we report unusual cutting-type dentitions from the Paleogene of Morocco which are assigned to a new genus of highly specialized pycnodont fish. This peculiar taxon represents the last member of a new, previously undetected 40-million-year lineage (Serrasalmimidae fam. nov., including two other new genera and Polygyrodus White, 1927) ranging back to the early Late Cretaceous and leading to exclusively carnivorous predatory forms, unique and unexpected among pycnodonts. Our discovery indicates that latest Cretaceous-earliest Paleogene pycnodonts occupied more diverse trophic niches than previously thought, taking advantage of the apparition of new prey types in the changing marine ecosystems of this time interval. The evolutionary sequence of trophic specialization characterizing this new group of pycnodontiforms is strikingly similar to that observed within serrasalmid characiforms, from seed- and fruit-eating pacus to flesh-eating piranhas.

Concepts: Mesozoic, Carnivore, Piranha, Animal, Cenozoic, Cretaceous–Tertiary extinction event, Dinosaur, Cretaceous


A palaeosurface with one megatheropod trackway and several theropod tracks and trackways from the Lower Jurassic upper Elliot Formation (Stormberg Group, Karoo Supergroup) in western Lesotho is described. The majority of the theropod tracks are referable to either Eubrontes or Kayentapus based on their morphological characteristics. The larger megatheropod tracks are 57 cm long and have no Southern Hemisphere equivalent. Morphologically, they are more similar to the Early Jurassic Kayentapus, as well as the much younger Upper Cretaceous ichnogenus Irenesauripus, than to other contemporaneous ichnogenera in southern Africa. Herein they have been placed within the ichnogenus Kayentapus and described as a new ichnospecies (Kayentapus ambrokholohali). The tracks are preserved on ripple marked, very fine-grained sandstone of the Lower Jurassic upper Elliot Formation, and thus were made after the end-Triassic mass extinction event (ETE). This new megatheropod trackway site marks the first occurrence of very large carnivorous dinosaurs (estimated body length >8-9 meters) in the Early Jurassic of southern Gondwana, an evolutionary strategy that was repeatedly pursued and amplified in the following ~135 million years, until the next major biotic crisis at the end-Cretaceous.

Concepts: Jurassic, Carboniferous, Cretaceous, Extinction event, Cretaceous–Tertiary extinction event, Triassic, Extinction, Dinosaur


Whether dinosaurs were in a long-term decline or whether they were reigning strong right up to their final disappearance at the Cretaceous-Paleogene (K-Pg) mass extinction event 66 Mya has been debated for decades with no clear resolution. The dispute has continued unresolved because of a lack of statistical rigor and appropriate evolutionary framework. Here, for the first time to our knowledge, we apply a Bayesian phylogenetic approach to model the evolutionary dynamics of speciation and extinction through time in Mesozoic dinosaurs, properly taking account of previously ignored statistical violations. We find overwhelming support for a long-term decline across all dinosaurs and within all three dinosaurian subclades (Ornithischia, Sauropodomorpha, and Theropoda), where speciation rate slowed down through time and was ultimately exceeded by extinction rate tens of millions of years before the K-Pg boundary. The only exceptions to this general pattern are the morphologically specialized herbivores, the Hadrosauriformes and Ceratopsidae, which show rapid species proliferations throughout the Late Cretaceous instead. Our results highlight that, despite some heterogeneity in speciation dynamics, dinosaurs showed a marked reduction in their ability to replace extinct species with new ones, making them vulnerable to extinction and unable to respond quickly to and recover from the final catastrophic event.

Concepts: Evolution, Triassic, Impact event, Extinction event, Cretaceous, Cretaceous–Tertiary extinction event, Extinction, Dinosaur


Bird fossils from Turonian (ca. 90 Ma) sediments of Axel Heiberg Island (High Canadian Arctic) are among the earliest North American records. The morphology of a large well-preserved humerus supports identification of a new volant, possibly diving, ornithurine species (Tingmiatornis arctica). The new bird fossils are part of a freshwater vertebrate fossil assemblage that documents a period of extreme climatic warmth without seasonal ice, with minimum mean annual temperatures of 14 °C. The extreme warmth allowed species expansion and establishment of an ecosystem more easily able to support large birds, especially in fresh water bodies such as those present in the Turonian High Arctic. Review of the high latitude distribution of Northern Hemisphere Mesozoic birds shows only ornithurine birds are known to have occupied these regions. We propose physiological differences in ornithurines such as growth rate may explain their latitudinal distribution especially as temperatures decline later in the Cretaceous. Distribution and physiology merit consideration as factors in their preferential survival of parts of one ornithurine lineage, Aves, through the K/Pg boundary.

Concepts: Cretaceous–Tertiary extinction event, Ornithurae, Axel Heiberg Island, Paleontology, Climate, Evolution, Dinosaur, Bird


Bolide impact and flood volcanism compete as leading candidates for the cause of terminal-Cretaceous mass extinctions. High-precision (40)Ar/(39)Ar data indicate that these two mechanisms may be genetically related, and neither can be considered in isolation. The existing Deccan Traps magmatic system underwent a state shift approximately coincident with the Chicxulub impact and the terminal-Cretaceous mass extinctions, after which ~70% of the Traps' total volume was extruded in more massive and more episodic eruptions. Initiation of this new regime occurred within ~50,000 years of the impact, which is consistent with transient effects of impact-induced seismic energy. Postextinction recovery of marine ecosystems was probably suppressed until after the accelerated volcanism waned.

Concepts: Extinction event, Chicxulub, Yucatán, Impact event, Shiva crater, Dinosaur, Chicxulub crater, Deccan Traps, Cretaceous–Tertiary extinction event