Research ArticlePALEONTOLOGY

A new fossil assemblage shows that large angiosperm trees grew in North America by the Turonian (Late Cretaceous)

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Science Advances  26 Sep 2018:
Vol. 4, no. 9, eaar8568
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aar8568

Abstract

The diversification of flowering plants and marked turnover in vertebrate faunas during the mid-Cretaceous transformed terrestrial communities, but the transition is obscured by reduced terrestrial deposition attributable to high sea levels. We report a new fossil assemblage from multiple localities in the Upper Cretaceous Ferron Sandstone Member of the Mancos Shale Formation in Utah. The fossils date to the Turonian, a severely underrepresented interval in the terrestrial fossil record of North America. A large silicified log (maximum preserved diameter, 1.8 m; estimated height, ca. 50 m) is assigned to the genus Paraphyllanthoxylon; it is the largest known pre-Campanian angiosperm and the earliest documented occurrence of an angiosperm tree more than 1.0 m in diameter. Foliage and palynomorphs of ferns, conifers, and angiosperms confirm the presence of mixed forest or woodland vegetation. Previously known terrestrial vertebrate remains from the Ferron Sandstone Member include fish teeth, two short dinosaur trackways, and a pterosaur; we report the first turtle and crocodilian remains and an ornithopod sacrum. Previous studies indicate that angiosperm trees were present by the Cenomanian, but this discovery demonstrates that angiosperm trees approaching 2 m in diameter were part of the forest canopies across southern North America by the Turonian (~92 million years ago), nearly 15 million years earlier than previously thought.

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