Skip to main content Accessibility help
Hostname: page-component-56f9d74cfd-mtzzk Total loading time: 0.296 Render date: 2022-06-25T14:03:40.916Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "shouldUseShareProductTool": true, "shouldUseHypothesis": true, "isUnsiloEnabled": true, "useRatesEcommerce": false, "useNewApi": true }

Article contents

Paleocommunity mixing increases with marine transgression in Dinosaur Park Formation (Upper Cretaceous) vertebrate microfossil assemblages

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 December 2018

Matthew P. J. Oreska
Department of Environmental Sciences, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Virginia 22904-4123, U.S.A.; and Department of Paleobiology, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. 20013-7012, U.S.A. E-mail:
Matthew T. Carrano
Department of Paleobiology, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. 20013-7012, U.S.A.


Vertebrate microfossil assemblages in a stratigraphic sequence often yield similar assortments of taxa but at different relative abundances, potentially indicative of marginal paleocommunity changes driven by paleoenvironmental change over time. For example, stratigraphically younger assemblages in the Dinosaur Park Formation (DPF) yield proportionally more aquatic taxa, consistent with marine transgression. However, individual deposits may have received specimens from multiple source paleocommunities over time, limiting our ability to confidently identify ecologically significant, paleocommunity differences through direct assemblage comparisons. We adapted a three-source, two-tracer Bayesian mixing model to quantify proportional contributions from different source habitats to DPF microfossil assemblages. Prior information about the compositions of separate, relatively unmixed terrestrial, freshwater, and marine assemblages from the Belly River Group allowed us to define expected taxon percent abundances for the end-member habitats likely contributing specimens to the mixed deposits. We compared the mixed assemblage and end-member distributions using 21 different combinations of vertebrate taxa. Chondrichthyan, dinosaur, and amphibian occurrence patterns ultimately allowed us to parse the contributions from the potential sources to 14 of the 15 mixed assemblages. The results confirmed a significant decline in terrestrial contributions at younger DPF sites, driven primarily by increased freshwater specimen inputs—not incursions from the adjacent marine paleocommunity. A rising base level likely increased lateral channel migration and the prevalence of freshwater habitats on the landscape, factors that contributed to increased paleocommunity mixing at younger channel deposit sites. Bayesian methods can account for source-mixing bias, which may be common in assemblages associated with major paleoenvironmental changes.

Paleobiology , Volume 45 , Issue 1 , February 2019 , pp. 136 - 153
Copyright © 2018 The Paleontological Society. All rights reserved 

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


Albano, P. G., and Sabelli, B.. 2011. Comparison between death and living molluscs assemblages in a Mediterranean infralittoral off-shore reef. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 310:206215.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Araújo-Júnior, H. I., Oliveira Porpino, K., and Bergqvist, L. P.. 2017. Origin of bonebeds in Quaternary tank deposits. Journal of South American Earth Sciences 76:257263.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Beavan, N. R., and Russell, A. P.. 1999. An elasmobranch assemblage from the terrestrial-marine transitional Lethbridge Coal Zone (Dinosaur Park Formation: Upper Cretaceous), Alberta, Canada. Journal of Paleontology 73:494503.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Behrensmeyer, A. K., and Miller, J. H.. 2012. Building links between ecology and paleontology using taphonomic studies of recent vertebrate communities. Pp. 6991 in Louys, J., ed. Paleontology in ecology and conservation. Springer-Verlag, Berlin.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Behrensmeyer, A. K., Kidwell, S. M., and Gastaldo, R. A.. 2000. Taphonomy and paleobiology. Paleobiology 26(Suppl. to No. 4):103147.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Belanger, C. L. 2011. Evaluating taphonomic bias of paleoecological data in fossil benthic foraminiferal assemblages. Palaios 26:767778.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Bennington, J. B., and Bambach, R. K.. 1996. Statistical testing for paleocommunity recurrence: Are similar fossil assemblages ever the same? Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, and Palaeoecology 127:107133.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Bergamino, L., Dalu, T., and Richoux, N. B.. 2014. Evidence of spatial and temporal changes in sources of organic matter in estuarine sediments: stable isotope and fatty acid analyses. Hydrobiologia 732:133145.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Blob, R. W., and Fiorillo, A. R.. 1996. The significance of vertebrate microfossil size and shape distributions for faunal abundance reconstructions: a Late Cretaceous example. Paleobiology 22:422435.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Brinkman, D. B. 1990. Paleoecology of the Judith River Formation (Campanian) of Dinosaur Provincial Park, Alberta, Canada: evidence from vertebrate microfossil localities. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 78:3754.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Brinkman, D. B., Russell, A. P., Eberth, D. A., and Peng, J. H.. 2004. Vertebrate palaeocommunities of the lower Judith River Group (Campanian) of southeastern Alberta, Canada, as interpreted from vertebrate microfossil assemblages. Palaoegeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 213:295313.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Brinkman, D. B., Braman, D. R., Neuman, A. G., Ralrick, P. E., and Sato, T.. 2005a. A vertebrate assemblage from the marine shales of the Lethbridge Coal Zone. Pp. 486500 in Currie, P. J. and Koppelhus, E. B., eds. Dinosaur Provincial Park. Indiana University Press, Bloomington.Google Scholar
Brinkman, D. B., Russell, A. P., and Peng, J.-H.. 2005b. Vertebrate microfossil sites and their contribution to studies of ecology. Pp. 8898 in Currie, P. J. and Koppelhus, E. B., eds. Dinosaur Provincial Park. Indiana University Press, Bloomington.Google Scholar
Bürkli, A., and Wilson, A. B.. 2017. Explaining high-diversity death assemblages: undersampling of the living community, out-of-habitat transport, time-averaging of rare taxa, and local extinction. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 466:174183.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Burnham, K. P., and Anderson, D. R.. 1994. Multimodel inference: understanding AIC and BIC in model selection. Sociological Methods Research 33:261304.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Carrano, M. T., Oreska, M. P. J., Lockwood, R.. 2016. Vertebrate paleontology of the Cloverly Formation (Lower Cretaceous), II: paleoecology. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 36:e1071265.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Clark, J. S. 2005. Why environmental scientists are becoming Bayesians. Ecology Letters 8:214.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Cooper, R. J., Krueger, T., Hiscock, K. M., and Rawlins, B. G.. 2014. Sensitivity of fluvial sediment source apportionment to mixing model assumptions: a Bayesian model comparison. Water Resources Research 50:90319047.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Craven, K. F., Edwards, R. J., and Flood, R. P.. 2017. Source organic matter analysis of saltmarsh sediments using SIAR and its application in relative sea-level studies in regions of C4 plant invasion. Boreas 46:642654.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Cullen, T. M., and Evans, D. C.. 2016. Palaeoenvironmental drivers of vertebrate community composition in the Belly River Group (Campanian) of Alberta, Canada, with implications for dinosaur biogeography. BMC Ecology 16:52.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Cullen, T. M., Fanti, F., Capobianco, C., Ryan, M. J., and Evans, D. C.. 2016. A vertebrate microsite from a marine-terrestrial transition in the Foremost Formation (Campanian) of Alberta, Canada, and the use of faunal assemblage data as a paleoenvironmental indicator. Palaoegeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 444:101114.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Cutler, A. H., Behrensmeyer, A. K., and Chapman, R. E.. 1999. Environmental information in a recent bone assemblage: roles of taphonomic processes and ecology change. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 149:359372.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Eberth, D. A. 1990. Stratigraphy and sedimentology of vertebrate microfossil sites in the uppermost Judith River Formation (Campanian), Dinosaur Provincial Park, Alberta, Canada. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 78:136.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Eberth, D. A. 2005. The geology. Pp. 5482 in Currie, P. J. and Koppelhus, E. B., eds. Dinosaur Provincial Park. Indiana University Press, Bloomington.Google Scholar
Eberth, D. A., and Brinkman, D. B.. 1997. Paleoecology of an estuarine, incised-valley fill in the Dinosaur Park Formation (Judith River Group, Upper Cretaceous) of Southern Alberta, Canada. Palaios 12:4358.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Eberth, D. A., and Hamblin, A. P.. 1993. Tectonic, stratigraphic, and sedimentologic significance of a regional discontinuity in the upper Judith River Group (Belly River wedge) of southern Alberta, Saskatchewan, and northern Montana. Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences 30:174200.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Ellison, A. M. 2004. Bayesian inference in ecology. Ecology Letters 7:509520.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Evans, D. C., McGarrity, C. T., and Ryan, M. J.. 2014. A skull of Prosaurolophus maximus from southeastern Alberta and the spatiotemporal distribution of faunal zones in the Dinosaur Park Formation. Pp. 200207 in Currie, P. J. and Koppelhus, E. B., eds. Dinosaur Provincial Park. Indiana University Press, Bloomington.Google Scholar
Freitas, M. C., Andrade, C., and Cruces, C.. 2002. The geologic record of environmental changes in southwestern Portuguese coastal lagoons since the Lateglacial. Quaternary International 93–94:161170.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Fricke, H. C., and Pearson, D. A.. 2008. Stable isotope evidence for changes in dietary niche partitioning among hadrosaurian and ceratopsian dinosaurs of the Hell Creek Formation, North Dakota. Paleobiology 34:534552.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Gates, T. A., Sampson, S. D., Zanno, L. E., Roberts, E. M., Eaton, J. G., Nydam, R. L., Hutchinson, J. H., Smith, J. A., Loewen, M. A., and Getty, M. A.. 2010. Biogeography of terrestrial and freshwater vertebrates from the late Cretaceous (Campanian) Western Interior of North America. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 291:371387.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hondula, K. L., and Pace, M. L.. 2014. Macroalgal support of cultured hard clams in a low nitrogen coastal lagoon. Marine Ecology Progress Series 498:187201.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hopkins, J. B., and Ferguson, J. M.. 2012. Estimating the diets of animals using stable isotopes and a comprehensive Bayesian mixing model. PLoS ONE 7:e28478.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Jablonski, D., and Sepkoski, J. J.. 1996. Paleobiology, community ecology, and scales of ecological pattern. Ecology 77:13671378.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Kidwell, S. M. 2013. Time-averaging and fidelity of modern death assemblages: building a taphonomic foundation for conservation palaeobiology. Palaeontology 56:487522.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Kidwell, S. M., and Flessa, K. W.. 1995. The quality of the fossil record: populations, species, and communities. Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics 26:269299.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Kidwell, S. M., and Holland, S. M.. 2002. The quality of the fossil record: implications for evolutionary analysis. Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics 33:561588.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Kidwell, S. M., and Tomasovych, A.. 2013. Implications of time-averaged death assemblages for ecology and conservation biology. Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics 44:539563.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Koiter, A. J., Lobb, D. A., Owens, P. N., Petticrew, E. L., Tiessen, K. H. D., and Li, S.. 2013. Investigating the role of connectivity and scale in assessing the sources of sediment in an agricultural watershed in the Canadian prairies using sediment source fingerprinting. Journal of Soils and Sediments 13:16761691.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Kosnik, M. A., Hua, Q., Kaufman, D. S., and Wüst, R. A.. 2009. Taphonomic bias and time- averaging in tropical molluscan death assemblages: differential shell half-lives in Great Barrier Reef sediment. Paleobiology 35:565586.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Kowalewski, M., Casebolt, S., Hua, Q., Whitacre, K. E., Kaufman, D. S., Kosnik, M. A.. 2017. One fossil record, multiple time resolutions: disparate time-averaging of echinoids and mollusks on a Holocene carbonate platform. Geology 46:5154.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Larsen, T., Bach, L. T., Salvatteci, R., Wang, Y. V., Andersen, N., Ventura, M., and McCarthy, M. D.. 2015. Assessing the potential of amino acid 13C patterns as a carbon source tracer in marine sediments: effects of algal growth conditions and sedimentary diagenesis. Biogeosciences 12:49794992.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Luo, Z.-X. 2007. Transformation and diversification in early mammal evolution. Nature 450:10111019.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Matson, C. C. 2010. Paleoenvironments of the Upper Cretaceous Dinosaur Park Formation in southern Alberta, Canada. M.S. thesis submitted to the University of Calgary, Alberta, Canada. 125 p.Google Scholar
Matsubayashi, J., Morimoto, J. O., Tayasu, I., Mano, T., Nakajima, M., Takahashi, O., Kobayashi, K., and Nakamura, T.. 2015. Major decline in marine and terrestrial animal consumption by brown bears (Ursus arctos). Scientific Reports 5:9203.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
McCarthy, M. A. 2011. Bayesian Methods for Ecology, 4th ed. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. Pp. 129.Google Scholar
McMullen, S. K., Holland, S. M., and O'Keefe, F. R.. 2014. The occurrence of vertebrate and invertebrate fossils in a sequence stratigraphic context: the Jurassic Sundance Formation, Bighorn Basin, Wyoming, U.S.A. Palaios 29:277294.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Miller, A. I. 1988. Spatial resolution in subfossil molluscan remains: implications for paleobiological analyses. Paleobiology 14:91103.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Miller, A. I., and Cummings, H.. 1990. A numerical model for the formation of fossil assemblages: estimating the amount of post-mortem transport along environmental gradients. Palaios 5:303316.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Miller, J. H. 2012. Spatial fidelity of skeletal remains: elk wintering and calving grounds revealed by bones on the Yellowstone landscape. Ecology 93:24742482.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Moore, J. R. 2012. Do terrestrial vertebrate assemblages show consistent taphonomic patterns? Palaios 27:220234.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Moore, J. R., and Norman, D. B.. 2009. Quantitatively evaluating the sources of taphonomic biasing of skeletal element abundances in fossil assemblages. Palaios 24:591602.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Noto, C. R., and Grossman, A.. 2010. Broad-scale patterns of Late Jurassic dinosaur paleoecology. PLoS ONE 5:e12553.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Oksanen, J. 2018. Package ‘vegan’: community ecology package., accessed 28 July 2018.Google Scholar
Parnell, A. C., and Inger, R.. 2016. Stable isotope mixing models in R with simmr., accessed 28 July 2018.Google Scholar
Parnell, A. C., and Jackson, A. L.. 2015. siar: stable isotope analysis in R. R package 4.2., accessed 17 Feb 2018.Google Scholar
Parnell, A. C., Inger, R., Bearhop, S., and Jackson, A. L.. 2010. Source partitioning using stable isotopes: coping with too much variation. PLoS ONE 5:e9672.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Parnell, A. C., Phillips, D. L., Bearhop, S., Semmens, B. X., Ward, E. J., Moore, J. W., Jackson, A. L., Grey, J., Kelly, D. J., and Inger, R.. 2013. Bayesian stable isotope mixing models. Environmetrics 24:387399.Google Scholar
Phillips, D. L., Inger, R., Bearhop, S., Jackson, A. L., Moore, J. W., Parnell, A. C., Semmens, B. X., and Ward, E. J.. 2014. Best practices for use of stable isotope mixing models in food-web studies. Canadian Journal of Zoology 92:823835.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Pimiento, C., Griffin, J. N., Clements, C. F., Silvestro, D., Varela, S., Uhen, M. D., and Jaramillo, C.. 2017. The Pliocene marine megafauna extinction and its impact on functional diversity. Nature Ecology and Evolution 1:11001106.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Raabe, E. A., and Stumpf, R. P.. 2016. Expansion of tidal marsh in response to sea-level rise: Gulf Coast of Florida, USA. Estuaries and Coasts 39:145157.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
R Development Core Team. 2017. R, Version 3.4.2. R Foundation for Statistical Computing, Vienna, Austria., accessed 3 October 2017.Google Scholar
Rogers, R. R., and Brady, M. E.. 2010. Origins of microfossil bonebeds: insights from the Upper Cretaceous Judith River Formation of north-central Montana. Paleobiology 36:80112.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Rogers, R. R., and Kidwell, S. M.. 2000. Associations of vertebrate skeletal concentrations and discontinuity surfaces in terrestrial and shallow marine records: a test in the Cretaceous of Montana. Journal of Geology 108:131154.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Rogers, R. R., Carrano, M. T., Curry Rogers, K. A., Perez, M., and Regan, A. K.. 2017. Isotaphonomy in concept and practice: an exploration of vertebrate microfossil bonebeds in the Upper Cretaceous (Campanian) Judith River Formation, north-central Montana. Paleobiology 43:248273.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Rowe, C. 2007. Vegetation change following mid-Holocene marine transgression of the Torres Strait shelf: a record from the island of Mua, northern Australia. The Holocene 17:927937.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Silvestro, D., Schnitzler, J., Liow, L. H., Antonelli, A., and Salamin, N.. 2014. Bayesian estimation of speciation and extinction from incomplete fossil occurrence data. Systematic Biology 63:349367.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Terry, R. C. 2010. On raptors and rodents: testing the ecological fidelity and spatiotemporal resolution of cave death assemblages. Paleobiology 36:137160.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Terry, R. C., and Novak, M.. 2015. Where does the time go? Mixing and depth-dependent distribution of fossil ages. Geology 43:487490.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Tomasovych, A., and Kidwell, S. M.. 2009a. Fidelity of variation in species composition and diversity partitioning by death assemblages: time-averaging transfers diversity from beta to alpha levels. Paleobiology 35:94118.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Tomasovych, A., and Kidwell, S. M.. 2009b. Preservation of spatial and environmental gradients by death assemblages. Paleobiology 35:119145.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Tomasovych, A., and Kidwell, S. M.. 2010. The effects of temporal resolution on species turnover and on testing metacommunity models. American Naturalist 175:587606.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Tyler, C. L., and Kowalewski, M.. 2017. Surrogate taxa and fossils as reliable proxies of spatial biodiversity patterns in marine benthic communities. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B 284:20162839.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Western, D., and Behrensmeyer, A. K.. 2009. Bone assemblages track animal community structure over 40 years in an African savanna ecosystem. Science 324:10611064.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Wilkinson, G. M., Carpenter, S. R., Cole, J. J., Pace, M. L., and Yang, C.. 2013. Terrestrial support of pelagic consumers: patterns and variability revealed by a multilake study. Freshwater Biology DOI:10.1111/fwb/12189.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Zambito, J. J., Mitchell, C. E., and Sheets, H. D.. 2008. A comparison of sampling and statistical techniques for analyzing bulk-sampled biofacies composition. Palaois 23:313321.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Cited by

Save article to Kindle

To save this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Paleocommunity mixing increases with marine transgression in Dinosaur Park Formation (Upper Cretaceous) vertebrate microfossil assemblages
Available formats

Save article to Dropbox

To save this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Dropbox account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

Paleocommunity mixing increases with marine transgression in Dinosaur Park Formation (Upper Cretaceous) vertebrate microfossil assemblages
Available formats

Save article to Google Drive

To save this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Google Drive account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

Paleocommunity mixing increases with marine transgression in Dinosaur Park Formation (Upper Cretaceous) vertebrate microfossil assemblages
Available formats

Reply to: Submit a response

Please enter your response.

Your details

Please enter a valid email address.

Conflicting interests

Do you have any conflicting interests? *