Revised chronostratigraphy of the lower chinle formation strata in arizona and new mexico (usa): High-Precision u-Pb geochronological constraints on the late triassic evolution of dinosaurs

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The early history of dinosaurs in North America is obscured by an incomplete fossil record, taxonomic uncertainties and speculative correlations of tetrapod-bearing rocks, as well as poor calibration of the Late Triassic time scale. High-precision U-Pb geochronology provides a reliable means of correlating terrestrial rock formations independent of equivocal lithostratigraphy or vertebrate biostratigraphy, and hence the possibility of properly evaluating models for the early radiation and diversification of Dinosauria. Here we present new, high-precision, U-Pb ID-TIMS zircon geochronology from the presumed lowermost strata of the Upper Triassic Chinle Formation of the Colorado Plateau in Southwest United States, including a mean 206Pb238U date of 219.39 ±0.16 Ma from the renowned Placerias Quarry Bone Bed in eastern Arizona. The new results prompt revisions to the chronostratigraphy of the lower Chinle and provide a new temporal context for its rich tetrapod fauna. The oldest documented dinosaurs of North America coexisted with their nondinosaurian near-relatives for a minimum of 12 m.y., from ca. 223 Ma to ca. 211 Ma, in the Norian. This early dinosauromorph record follows a ca. 6 m.y. period from which no tetrapod fossils have been documented and which was itself preceded by a ca. 10 m.y. depositional hiatus spanning nearly the entire Ladinian and Carnian stages of the terrestrial North America. The supposed late appearance of dinosauromorphs in North America compared to those in South America thus appears to be an artifact of incomplete preservation, as well as unsubstantiated age interpretations. This, together with the conspicuous biogeographic distinctions among the Triassic dinosauromorph assemblages, invalidates a simple diachronous model for the transcontinental radiation of early dinosaurs.

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American Journal of Science