Dinosaur ichnology and sedimentology of the Chignik Formation (Upper Cretaceous), Aniakchak National Monument, southwestern Alaska; Further insights on habitat preferences of high-latitude hadrosaurs.PLoS One. 2019; 14(10):e0223471.Plos
While there are now numerous records of dinosaurs from Cretaceous rocks around the state of Alaska, very few fossil records of terrestrial vertebrates are known from the Mesozoic rocks of the southwestern part of the state. Here we report the new discovery of extensive occurrences of dinosaur tracks from Aniakchak National Monument of the Alaska Peninsula. These tracks are in the Late Cretaceous (Maastrichtian) Chignik Formation, a cyclic sequence of rocks, approximately 500-600 m thick, representing shallow marine to nearshore marine environments in the lower part and continental alluvial coastal plain environments in the upper part of the section. These rocks are part of the Peninsular Terrane and paleomagnetic reconstructions based on the volcanic rocks of this terrane suggest that the Chignik Formation was deposited at approximately its current latitude which is almost 57° N. Recent field work in Aniakchak National Monument has revealed over 75 new track sites, dramatically increasing the dinosaur record from the Alaska Peninsula. Most of the combined record of tracks can be attributed to hadrosaurs, the plant-eating duck-billed dinosaurs. Tracks range in size from those made by full-grown adults to juveniles. Other tracks can be attributed to armored dinosaurs, meat-eating dinosaurs, and two kinds of fossil birds. The track size of the predatory dinosaur suggests a body approximately 6-7 m long, about the estimated size of the North Slope tyrannosaurid Nanuqsaurus. The larger bird tracks resemble Magnoavipes denaliensis previously described from Denali National Park, while the smaller bird tracks were made by a bird about the size of a modern Willet. Previous interdisciplinary sedimentologic and paleontologic work in the correlative and well-known dinosaur bonebeds of the Prince Creek Formation 1400km-1500km further north in Alaska suggested that high-latitude hadrosaurs preferred distal coastal plain or lower delta plain habitats. The ichnological record being uncovered in the Chignik Formation of southwestern Alaska is showing that the hadrosaur tracks here were also made in distal coastal and delta plain conditions. This similarity may corroborate the habitat preference model for Cretaceous high-latitude dinosaurs proposed for the data gathered from the Prince Creek Formation, and may indicate that at least Beringian hadrosaurids had similar habitat preferences regardless of latitude.