Rocky Mountain Section - 64th Annual Meeting (9–11 May 2012)

Paper No. 6
Presentation Time: 10:30 AM


BOARDMAN, Grant S., Dept. Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, 214 Bessey Hall, PO Box 880340, Lincoln, NE 68588-0340, SECORD, Ross, University of Nebraska - Lincoln, Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, 200 Bessey Hall, Lincoln, NE 68583 and LUKENS, William E., Earth and Environmental Science, Temple University, 326 Beury Hall, 1901 N. 13th St, Philadelphia, PA 19122,

Global climate change occurred across the Eocene-Oligocene (E-O) boundary at the onset of Antarctic glaciation. This change is manifested in the North American mid-continent by paleosols that suggest a change from humid, mosaic open forest in the latest Eocene (Chadronian North American land-mammal age, NALMA) to semi-arid, wooded scrubland in the earliest Oligocene (Orellan NALMA). In this study we use stable carbon values from the carbonate component of ungulate tooth enamel (δ13CE) to infer the types of habitats inhabited by mammals in northwestern Nebraska across the E-O boundary as a corollary to the changes seen in paleosols. δ13CE values in mammalian herbivores are a direct reflection of the vegetation they consume with predictable enrichment, and thus can be used to estimate the δ13C values of ancient vegetation. This requires a correction for change in the δ13C value of atmospheric CO2 from E-O time until present, and an estimate of diet-enamel enrichment based on modern mammals. We use δ13C values in modern vegetation from a variety of biomes as a basis for habitat interpretation across the E-O boundary.

Sampled specimens were collected from the Chadron and Brule formations in northwestern Nebraska. 12 taxa were examined in this study, six of which (Merycoidodon, Agriochoerus, Archaeotherium, Mesohippus, Subhyracodon, and Hyracodon) occur in both the Chadronian and Orellan NALMAs. These taxa have δ13CE values (~-9‰, VPDB) that plot in the range predicted for xeric wooded scrubland. Mean values do not change from the Chadronian to the Orellan, suggesting that a wooded scrubland was well established in the Chadronian landscape and persisted into the Orellan. The Chadronian brontothere Megacerops has δ13CE values (-10.9 ±0.70‰, VPDB), suggesting a slightly more closed, or more mesic microhabitat, plotting in the range predicted for savanna woodlands and dry forests. The extinction of brontotheres at the end of the Chadronian along with the absence of tree-sized root traces in the Orellan suggests that woodland microhabitats were either lost or became more restricted during the earliest Oligocene. However, overall, our isotopic evidence suggests that early Oligocene climate change had only a minor impact on the vegetation structure in Nebraska.

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