Alberta is among the best places in the world to find the fossil remains of dinosaurs from the later stages of the Cretaceous Period of Earth’s history, and of the many other animals and plants that lived alongside them. Palaeontologists have scoured badland areas of southern Alberta, including what is now Dinosaur Provincial Park, since the early years of the 20th century, but have paid much less attention to the northern part of the province despite its potential to yield unique insights into the flora and fauna of Cretaceous North America.
In recent years, however, fieldwork in the vicinity of Grande Prairie has begun to produce an increasingly clear and complete picture of a terrestrial ecosystem that thrived during an interval in the Late Cretaceous when much of southern Alberta was inundated by high sea levels. This ecosystem resembled the slightly older one from Dinosaur Provincial Park in many respects, but included otherwise unknown species such as the horned dinosaur Pachyrhinosaurus lakustai and the lizard Kleskunsaurus grandeprairiensis, and had a number of other unusual features such as a seemingly high abundance of small plant-eating dinosaurs known as thescelosaurids.
The northern Alberta record seems to indicate that a biological community similar to that known from Dinosaur Provincial Park continued to exist for longer than previously recognised, but also adds to earlier evidence that high-latitude faunas in the Cretaceous of western North America differed in many respects from their lower-latitude counterparts.
Corwin Sullivan is a vertebrate palaeontologist with the University of Alberta and the Philip J. Currie Dinosaur Museum. His research interests centre on the diversity, functional morphology and evolution of dinosaurs and their close relatives. Much of the research currently being done in his lab focusses on the Cretaceous vertebrates of the northern Alberta and on the evolution of locomotion, feeding and respiration in various dinosaur groups.
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