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Article: Marine reptiles from the Lower Cretaceous of South Australia: elements of a high-latitude cold-water assemblage

Publication: Palaeontology
Volume: 49
Part: 4
Publication Date: July 2006
Page(s): 837 856
Author(s): Benjamin P. Kear
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KEAR, B. P. 2006. Marine reptiles from the Lower Cretaceous of South Australia: elements of a high-latitude cold-water assemblage. Palaeontology49, 4, 837–856.

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The Lower Cretaceous rocks of South Australia have yielded a diverse marine reptile assemblage of up to five families of plesiosaur (including a new cryptoclidid or cimoliasaurid, indeterminate elasmosaurids, a possible polycotylid, rhomaleosaurids, and pliosaurid) and one family of ichthyosaur (ophthalmosaurid). Other common associated vertebrates include chimaerids and osteichthyans. Sharks, dipnoans and dinosaurs are uncommon and marine turtles are notably absent. The main fossil-producing strata belong to the Lower Aptian-Lower Albian Bulldog Shale although the Upper Albian Oodnadatta Formation has produced isolated elements. Both these units comprise finely laminated shaly mudstones and claystones deposited in a transgressive shallow coastal, epicontinental marine environment. Estimates of palaeolatitude place South Australia between 60degrees and 70degreesS, in the late Early Cretaceous. Sedimentary structures (including lonestone boulders and glendonites), fossils, isotope data and climatic modelling also indicate that seasonally cool-cold conditions (possibly with winter freezing) prevailed during deposition of the Bulldog Shale. This contrasts markedly with climate regimes typically tolerated by modern aquatic reptiles but suggests that some of the South Australian Mesozoic taxa may have possessed adaptations (including elevated metabolic levels and/or annual migration) to cope with low temperatures. A high proportion of juvenile plesiosaur remains in the Bulldog Shale might also indicate that nutrient-rich cold-water coastal habitats functioned as both 'safe calving grounds' and refuges for young animals prior to their entering the open sea as adults. The occurrence of plesiosaurs and ichthyosaurs in the high-latitude Lower Cretaceous of southern Australia, along with plesiosaurs and mosasaurs in the Upper Cretaceous of South America, Antarctica, New Zealand and the Chatham Islands, demonstrates that Mesozoic marine reptiles utilized southern high-latitude environments over a considerable period of time, and that these records do not represent casual occupation by isolated taxa.
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