Dinosaur Discoveries in Denali National Park and Preserve Provide New Information on Prehistoric Ecosystems
Contact: Kris Fister, 907-683-9583
The summer of 2007 was the most exciting so far in the continued search for new dinosaur materials in Denali National Park and Preserve. Discoveries of hundreds of new dinosaur and fossil bird footprints were made, which included the footprints of adolescent hadrosaurs – commonly known as duck-billed dinosaurs. The discovery of the evidence of young dinosaurs prompted dinosaur expert Dr. Tony Fiorillo of the Dallas Museum of Nature and Science to note that “Denali has been a family destination for generations.”
In addition to the footprints, researchers found dinosaur skin impressions, imprints of plant life, fossilized pollen, coprolites (fossilized dinosaur feces), and numerous impressions left behind by a variety of bugs and worms, all adding up to an impressive magnitude and diversity of paleo-ecological evidence.
These new fossil finds, along with the discoveries from the two previous years, reveal that the Cantwell Formation outcrops in Denali have preserved a wide array of plants and animals in several environments. Additional research is needed to piece together this fossil evidence, but the diversity of fossils has experts asserting that Denali is one of the premier parks of the National Park System for studying a complete fossil story of the Cretaceous environment of 65-70 million years ago.
The first dinosaur footprint in Denali was discovered in 2005 by Susi Tomsich, a graduate student from the University of Alaska Fairbanks. It was a track of a theropod, a three-toed, meat-eating dinosaur that walked on its hind legs. Additional discoveries in 2006 made by National Park Service researchers, graduate students, and citizen scientists participating in field courses and training workshops showed that the area that is now a national park was once shared by additional dinosaur species, as well as an array of prehistoric fish, wading birds and insects.
Several researchers participated in the 2007 discoveries. A team comprised of Dr. Fiorillo, Dr. Steve Hasiotis, University of Kansas, and Dr. Yoshitsugu Kobayashi of Hokkaido University Museum in Sapporo, Japan investigated trace fossils in three park locations. Dr. Dave Sunderlin, a paleobotanist from Lafayette College in Indiana did field research on fossil plant material and Susi Tomsich focused on rock and fossil material in order to reconstruct the Cretaceous environment. Their field work took place in several park locations, including Double Mountain, Cabin Peak, Mount Sheldon, and Sable Mountain.
Most of these scientists are planning to return to the park in the 2008 field season to continue their work. In addition, the National Park Service will begin work on a paleontological resources management plan, which will give guidance on how to manage the se newly discovered park resources for public enjoyment and research.
For the lay person, the Murie Science and Learning Center will be offering a family field seminar and a teacher training on Denali’s dinosaurs. The first fossil track discovered in the park in July 2005 is currently on display in the Murie Science and Learning Center, along with other exhibits on the track discoveries. Information on the courses is available at www.murieslc.org.
A photo of one of the 2007 discoveries is attached to the electronic version of the press release. It and others are available upon request.
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Did You Know?
Nearly 500 vegetation plots have been installed in Denali, to monitor climate change. Warmer temperatures allow woody plants to grow at higher elevations, invading the fragile and unique plants already in high alpine tundra - and threatening the animals that depend on those specialized plants.