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Collaborative Research: Late Cretaceous-Paleogene Vertebrates from Antarctica: Implications for Paleobiogeography, Paleoenvironment, and Extinction in Polar Gondwana

One of the great unknowns in the history of life is the part that Antarctica played in the evolution and paleobiogeography of vertebrates during the key time interval that spans the end of the Mesozoic and the beginning of the Cenozoic eras (the Cretaceous-Paleogene or K-Pg, between roughly 100 and 40 million years ago). Although specimens of fishes, marine reptiles, non-avian dinosaurs, birds, and mammals of this age have all been recovered from this now-frozen continent, most fossils, especially those of land-living species, are fragmentary and poorly informative, and a number of major vertebrate groups that likely once lived in Antarctica (e.g., amphibians, crocodilians) have yet to be discovered at all. The highly incomplete nature of this fossil record is due largely to the rarity of appropriate fossil-bearing rocks and the challenges of conducting fieldwork on this most remote and inhospitable of landmasses. Nevertheless, additional fossils are needed to ascertain Antarctica's role in the diversification and dispersal of a host of important vertebrate groups. Accordingly, our team has united to form the Antarctic Peninsula Paleontology Project or AP3, the goals of which are to recover new Late Cretaceous and Paleogene vertebrate fossils from Antarctica and to situate these discoveries within accurate temporal, paleoenvironmental, and paleoecological contexts. During a two-month expedition in early 2016, we collected exciting new Late Cretaceous and Paleogene fossils from the Antarctic Peninsula and are currently using these discoveries to test key evolutionary and paleoenvironmental hypotheses. We have also extensively disseminated our research activities via peer-reviewed publications, the project website, social media, live videoconferences, public and technical presentations, museum exhibitions and educational programs, films, the news media, and more. Our project has also provided research training and field experience for three paleontology doctoral students.

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