Early Cretaceous biota from the northern side of the Australo-Antarctic rift valley

T. H. Rich, P. V. Rich, B. Wagstaff, J. McEwen-Mason, C. B. Douthitt, R. T. Gregory

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A diverse biota including vertebrates, invertebrates, and plants is known from the Early Cretaceous of southeastern Australia. It is preserved in sediments that accumulated in the rift valley formed as Australia began to separate from Antarctica. As there was no significant terrestrial barrier between the two continents at the time, it is likely that the Early Cretaceous biota of the nearest region of East Antarctica may have been quite similar to that of southeastern Australia. Dominant among the vertebrates are turtles and at least four hypsilophodontid dinosaur species. Three species of theropods, including Allosaurus sp., are the only other dinosaurs represented. Other tetrapods include a few scant traces of plesiosaurs, pterosaurs, a lizard, and a labyrinthodont amphibian. Southeastern Australia was located well inside the Antarctic Circle of the day. Oxygen isotope studies suggest mean annual temperatures for the area between -5 and 8°C. These low temperatures are concordant with the character of both the flora and invertebrate fauna. The presence of juvenile hypsilophodontids implies that these animals were breeding in the area. The large eyes and optic lobes of the brain of these dinosaurs relative to other ornithopods suggests they may have been adapted for active behaviour under low light conditions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)121-130
Number of pages10
JournalGeological Society Special Publication
Publication statusPublished - 1989
Externally publishedYes

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