We examine patterns of occurrence of associated dinosaur specimens (n = 343) from the North American Upper Cretaceous Hell Creek Formation and equivalent beds, by comparing their relative abundance in sandstone and mudstone. Ceratopsians preferentially occur in mudstone, whereas hadrosaurs and the small ornithopod Thescelosaurus show a strong association with sandstone. By contrast, the giant carnivore Tyrannosaurus rex shows no preferred association with either lithology. These lithologies are used as an indicator of environment of deposition, with sandstone generally representing river environments, and finer grained sediments typically representing floodplain environments. Given these patterns of occurrence, we argue that spatial niche partitioning helped reduce competition for resources between the herbivorous dinosaurs. Within coastal lowlands ceratopsians preferred habitats farther away from rivers, whereas hadrosaurs and Thescelosaurus preferred habitats in close proximity to rivers, and T. rex, the ecosystem's sole large carnivore, inhabited both palaeoenvironments. Spatial partitioning of the environment helps explain how several species of large herbivorous dinosaurs coexisted. This study emphasizes that different lithologies can preserve dramatically dissimilar vertebrate assemblages, even when deposited in close proximity and within a narrow window of time. The lithology in which fossils are preserved should be recorded as these data can provide unique insights into the palaeoecology of the animals they preserve.
|Number of pages
|Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
|Published - 22 Apr 2011