Research in the Wahweap and Kaiparowits formations of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument forms the cornerstone of the Laramidia Project

Following the creation of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, the past 20 years have witnessed an explosion in new dinosaur discoveries from the Kaiparowits Basin of southern Utah. The region contains especially rich faunas and floras from the Campanian Kaiparowits and Wahweap formations, 82–74 million years ago. Nearly every vertebrate taxon from the ~76-million-year-old Kaiparowits Formation is new to science, including the recently described dinosaurs Nasutoceratops and Kosmoceratops. Similarly, the older Wahweap Formation has produced many new dinosaurs from several biotic intervals, including the horned dinosaur Diabloceratops and the tyrannosaurid Lythronax from the lower horizons, dated between 82 and 79 million years. Much of the Wahweap biota is still poorly sampled, with incredible potential for significant new discoveries. Research in the Kaiparowits Basin is highly collaborative, including teams of paleontologists, geologists, volunteers, and students from the Natural History Museum of Utah, the Bureau of Land Management, the Raymond M. Alf Museum of Paleontology, and James Cook University, among others. With a broad focus, the Denver Museum of Nature & Science team, led by curator of dinosaurs Joe Sertich, has explored the Wahweap and Kaiparowits formations for evidence of past ecosystems, including the remains of dinosaurs, microvertebrates, fossil plants, fossil wood, and geologic evidence linked to the southern portion of the western landmass of Laramidia.

Collaborating Scientists and Students

Research in the Kaiparowits Basin of Utah is one of the best examples of multi-institutional research collaborations in the country, with the shared goal of discovering and characterizing past ecosystems. In addition, managing permits and access to localities, the Bureau of Land Management, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, team conducts its own surveys, excavations, and research in the region under the direction of Monument paleontologist Alan Titus and preparator Katja Knoll. A long-established research project in the region conducted by the Natural History Museum of Utah (NHMU) and University of Utah is led by curator Randall Irmis with assistance from Tylor Birthisel, Carrie Levitt-Bussian, and a large volunteer corps. Geologic work in the basin is largely directed by Eric Roberts (James Cook University), with contributions from Zubair Jinnah (University of the Witwatersrand). Much of the recent work on fossil invertebrates has been conducted by Leif Tapanila (Idaho Museum of Natural History). Other researchers working on the project include Mark Loewen (University of Utah), Henry Fricke (Colorado College), Celina Suarez (University of Arkansas), Scott Sampson (California Academy of Sciences), Lindsay Zanno (North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences), David Evans (Royal Ontario Museum), Bucky Gates (North Carolina State University), Josh Lively (University of Illinois Springfield), and Jelle Wiersma (James Cook University).

Students working on the fossils from the Kaiparowits Formation include PhD student C. Hank Woolley (University of Southern California), currently studying fossil lizards as part of a broader investigation of patterns of squamate distributions in Laramidia, and PhD student Gussie Maccracken (University of Maryland), currently investigating fossil insect-plant interactions from paleobotanical fossils.

New Discoveries

The team has discovered many partial skeletons of dinosaur and other prehistoric animals and plants from the region, including:

  • Several partial skulls of a new species of horned dinosaur similar to Pentaceratops from the Kaiparowits Formation
  • Many partial skeletons and skulls of the crested duck-billed dinosaur, Parasaurolophus, from the Kaiparowits Formation
  • A new dromaeosaurid (raptor) dinosaur from the Kaiparowits Formation
  • Evidence for a second lambeosaurine hadrosaur dinosaur in the Kaiparowits Formation
  • A new pachycephalosaur dinosaur from the lower Wahweap Formation
  • A new orodromine dinosaur from the Kaiparowits Formation
  • Several new turtles and crocodile species
  • Incredibly diverse fossil plant communities, many hosting undescribed fossil plants ranging from trees to vines to aquatic plants

Staff

Joseph Sertich, PhD

Associate Curator of Dinosaurs

Natalie Toth, MS

Chief Preparator

Salvador Bastien

Fossil Preparator

Kristen A. MacKenzie, MS

Earth Sciences Collections Manager

Libby Couch

Business Support Specialist

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