"What we found was that periodically, throughout their life, these dinosaurs were switching how fast they were growing," said Tumarkin-Deratzian. "We interpreted this as potentially a seasonal pattern because we know in modern animals these types of shifts can be induced by changes in nutrition. But that shift is often driven by changes in seasonality."
The researchers questioned what was causing the dinosaurs to be under stress at certain times during the year: staying up in the polar region and dealing with reduced nutrition during the winter or migrating to and from lower latitudes during the winter.
They did bone microstructure analysis on similar duck-billed dinosaur fossils found in southern Alberta, Canada, but didn't see similar stress patterns, implying that those dinosaurs did not experience regular periodic seasonal stresses. "We had two sets of animals that were growing differently," said Tumarkin-Deratzian.
Since the Alaska fossils had all been preserved in the same sedimentary horizon, Fiorillo examined the geology of the bonebeds in Alaska where the samples were excavated and discovered that these dinosaurs had been preserved in flood deposits.
"They are very similar to modern flood deposits that happen in Alaska in the spring when you get spring melt water coming off the Brooks Mountain Range," said Fiorillo. "The rivers flood down the Northern Slope and animals get caught in these floods, particularly younger animals, which appear to be what happened to these dinosaurs.
"So we know they were there at the end of the dark winter period, because if they were migrating up from the lower latitudes, they wouldn't have been there during these floods," he said.
"It is fascinating to realize how much of information is locked in the bone microstructure of fossil bones," said Chinsamy-Turan. "It's incredible to realize that we can also tell from these 70 mill
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