TITLE: “Sea Monsters of the Cretaceous Gulf Coast: Using Isotopes in Fossil Teeth to Reconstruct Large Marine Animal Behavior"

SPEAKERS: Leah Travis Taylor, MS Student, Dept of Geological Sciences, University of Alabama

ABSTRACT: In the face of ongoing climate change, there are concerns of how large marine organisms and their seasonally associated behavior, namely migration and reproduction, will be impacted by rising temperatures. My research will help inform these discussions by contributing perspective on the migratory behavior of extinct marine reptiles that lived during the greenhouse climates of the Cretaceous. I propose to conduct an unprecedented study of Cretaceous marine reptiles from the Gulf Coast through geochemical sampling of their fossil remains at unparalleled detail. I will reconstruct the ecology of the sea monsters known as mosasaurs by analyzing stable oxygen isotope composition of their teeth, which will facilitate comparison with previous research on mosasaurs of the ancient Western Interior Seaway of the United States. I hypothesize that 1) the isotopic records of fossil mosasaur teeth from Alabama will show trends in mosasaur behavior by reflecting their occupation of distinct water sources, namely open marine vs. freshwater and surface vs. deep water habitats, and 2) that isotopic trends in the Alabama mosasaur specimens of the genus Clidastes will differ from Platecarpus mosasaurs from Kansas, due to paleogeography and niche partitioning specifically related to habitats of the Mississippi Embayment versus the central Western Interior Seaway. This idea builds upon previous interpretations of taxonomic differences between the two genera (e.g. Russell, 1967).


 Leah Travis Taylor, 1st year MS

UA McNair Fellow

UA Outstanding Senior Award in Geological Sciences, 2017

I am from Alexander City, Alabama. I received my Associate of Science from Southern Union State CC (2015) and a BS in Geological Sciences from the University of Alabama (2017). I am now pursuing my MS in Geological Sciences at UA with a specialty in Paleontology and Paleoclimatology. My thesis work, which is advised by Dr. Rebecca Totten Minzoni and Dr. Dana Ehret (formerly Curator of Paleontology at ALMNH, now Asst Curator of Natural History at the NJ State Museum), will investigate the paleobiology of Clidastes mosasaurs, which were common swimming reptiles in the Mississippi Embayment of the Western Interior Seaway during the Cretaceous. I will analyze isotopes in their teeth to reconstruct habitat preferences.


FIELD TRIPS: APS conducts monthly field trips to fossil localities in Alabama and surrounding states strictly with permission of landowners (please refer to our Ethical Statement for further details).  In accordance with our Statement of Purpose, we frequently make educational presentations to schools and public gatherings on subjects related to paleontology.   Field trip participation is generally limited to members but individuals interested in coming on a field trip as a guest with an eye towards membership should contact APS President Ashley Allen (alabamapaleo@gmail.com), Vice President Prescott Atkinson (patkinson@peds.uab.edu) or Field Trip Coordinator Milo Washington (themilum@yahoo.com).  We have also hosted classes ranging from upper elementary school grades to college geology groups and other groups with an interest in geology and paleontology on select field trips.


Interactive Photographic Index to the Steven C. Minkin Paleozoic Footprint Site (maintained by Dr. Ron Buta): a newly updated collection of photos from the Minkin site that are much easier to view:  Steven C. Minkin Trackway Photographic Index

Trace Fossils of the Crescent Valley Mine - a large collection of vertebrate tracks amassed by Dr. Ron Buta in his visits to this surface coal mine located very close to the underground coal mine which was the source of the vertebrate tracks described in the 1930 Bulletin of the Alabama Museum of Natural History by Aldrich and Jones:  http://kudzu.astr.ua.edu/cvm2/cvm-database2.htmlRECENTLY PUBLISHED!  Here is a link to a new paper by Dr Buta and collaborators on the CVM site with many beautiful photographs: http://kudzu.astr.ua.edu/cvmpaper/10-Buta-etal-Crescent-Valley-Mine.pdf.  The reference is:  Buta, R. J., Pashin, J. C., Minter, N. J., and Kopaska-Merkel, D. C. 2013, "Ichnology and Stratigraphy of the Crescent Valley Mine: Evidence for a Carboniferous Megatracksite in Walker County, Alabama," in The Carboniferous-Permian Transition, New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science, S. G. Lucas et al., eds., Vol. 60, pp. 42-56.

Downloadable Guide to the Minkin Footprint Site by Drs Ron Buta and David Kopaska-Merkel:  Minkin Guide - optimized Apr 6 2012.pdf

Minkin Track Site Monograph link:  This link contains PDF files for the multiauthor monograph on the tracks and plants from the Minkin Track Site including an extensive photographic atlas: http://kudzu.astr.ua.edu/monograph/monofiles/monofiles.html

Alabama Museum of Natural History:  The AMNH sponsors a great program of family friendly weekend field trips throughout the year to various sites focusing on geology, paleontology, ecology and other areas.  The AMNH has an immense paleo research collection accumulated over the past 100 years (including what may be the largest mosasaur collection in the world) and is always looking for volunteers to help with cleaning and cataloguing specimens.  In addition, for the past 30 years the AMNH has conducted a several week-long summer Expedition, usually focused on archaeology or paleontology in which participants  camp in the field and work with experts to uncover the remote history of human activities in Alabama or the much more ancient fossil inhabitants of the State:        http://amnh.ua.edu/ .   This is the link for Dana Ehret’s collection of images from the collection:  http://djehret.wix.com/collections .  The site is under construction but will be adding images over the coming months.

McWane Science Center: In addition to its world class interactive exhibits on the other sciences and its eye-popping IMAX Theatre, the McWane Center has a spectacular fossil exhibit, with lifesize replicas of dinosaurs including several whose remains have been found in Alabama, as well as the actual fossil remains of other fossil creatures that once inhabited the State such as a virtually complete mosasaur (a giant marine Cretaceous reptile related to snakes and lizards) and a giant ground sloth:  http://mcwane.org .  This is the link to McWane’s extensive new collection section with images of specimens in their collection:  http://www.mcwane.org/learn/the-mcwane-science-center-collection/.

Bighorn Basin Paleontological Institute: Prescott Atkinson, your Vice President, and Carl Sloan, your Secretary, participated in a weeklong dig in July 2017 with the BBPI excavating Jurassic age dinosaurs in the Bighorn Basin in Montana.  This experience is open to anyone - it would be a particularly great adventure for a parent/child pair (for kids as young as 10-12 years).  For further information see the BBPI website: at this link:  http://www.bbpaleo.org/ and also take a look at this spectacular video from their website: http://www.bbpaleo.org/public-expeditions .  If you would like to provide support for the BBPI, every time you shop on Amazon, be sure to use the Smile.Amazon.com web address shown below, and with every purchase Amazon makes a donation to the BBPI - at no extra cost to you!  It’s the easiest way to support this great organization.


Oceans of Kansas:  Mike Everhart’s spectacular website on the Cretaceous world, focusing on the western interior sea previously occupying present day Kansas, USA:  www.oceansofkansas.com

In Memoriam:  Frank David Lueth November 5, 1940-July 7, 2007. For those of you who knew him, this youtube photographic tribute to David created by his daughter is a wonderful memory of one of our departed friends:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a6euSPzoVLk

Interested in fossils?  Want to help support the University of Alabama’s paleo program? Consider making your tax deductible contribution to the Alabama Museum of Natural History’s Paleo Collections Enhancement Fund. Your money will be earmarked to help modernize the paleo collections, for example by buying archival shelving and preservation materials, supporting creation of an online image database and more.  Select the link below to make your tax deductible contribution.  No contribution is too small !   JUST CLICK THIS LINK:

AMNH Paleo Collections Enhancement Fund

Next APS Meeting: Monday April 2, 2018 at 7pm

Location:  The Lodge at the Zoo (Look for the walkway up the hill to the Lodge across the parking lot from the site of the now demolished Auditorium Building)