Co-PIs Patrick M. O?Connor, Raymond R. Rogers, Joseph J. W. Sertich, and Alan H. Turner
Abstract?The latter half of the Mesozoic Era witnessed profound changes in the configuration of landmasses that comprised the southern supercontinent of Gondwana, with dramatic consequences for the associated terrestrial and freshwater faunas of backboned (vertebrate) animals. Madagascar lay near the center of Gondwana as it fragmented into its component parts. This proposal seeks to continue a project primarily designed to discover vertebrate fossils from the Cretaceous Period. To date, we have quintupled the previously known species diversity of Late Cretaceous vertebrates from the island and have discovered some of the most complete and spectacularly preserved specimens of Late Cretaceous vertebrates from the southern hemisphere and, indeed, the world. Many new taxa have been named, described, and analyzed. But much remains to be done in the vast expanses of paleontologically and geologically unexplored Cretaceous rocks of Madagascar. With continued work, we are confident that Madagascar?s vertebrate fauna will become one of the best known faunas of Cretaceous age from the southern hemisphere and one of the primary standards against which other Gondwanan faunas of Cretaceous age are compared. We propose to continue collecting terrestrial and freshwater vertebrate fossils of latest Cretaceous age from two major field areas in the Mahajanga Basin of northwestern Madagascar. We also propose to expand our efforts into the Morondava Basin in western Madagascar, where a reconnaissance expedition in 2010 yielded a spectacular find of a massive sauropod dinosaur and the potential for many more specimens from strata older than those yielding fossils in the Mahajanga Basin. Discoveries from these earlier horizons will provide a deeper temporal context with which to address controversial biogeographic and plate tectonic hypotheses. As in the past, our work will strive to involve energetic and promising young people who are investigating a professional career in the sciences (high school and undergraduate students), studying to become professional paleontologists and geologists (graduate students), and just beginning their professional careers (postdoctoral associates and entry-level professors/curators). In addition to publishing in widely-distributed scientific journals, we will continue to make our research more broadly known to the public by publishing articles in popular magazines, contributing to displays in public museums, encouraging coverage in print media, radio, and television, developing websites, and through speaking engagements to both academic and lay audiences. Lastly, our establishment of the Madagascar Ankizy Fund (www.ankizy.org; ?ankizy? means ?children? in the Malagasy language), whose mission it is to build schools (four so far) and provide healthcare (e.g., temporary clinics, clean-water wells, mosquito nets) to remote areas of the island, has been very successful; our efforts in this venture will continue.