Paleosol-Based Inference of Niches for Oligocene and Early Miocene Fossils From the John Day Formation of Oregon

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Over the past decade, we recorded exact locations of in situ fossils and measured calcareous nodules in paleosols of the Oligocene and lower Miocene (Whitneyan–Arikareean) John Day Formation of Oregon. These data enable precise biostratigraphy within an astronomical time scale of Milankovitch obliquity cycles and also provide mean annual precipitation and vegetation for each species. Fossils in paleosols of the John Day Formation alternated between semiarid shrubland and subhumid woodland communities every 41 ka. Land snails ‘Polygyra’ expansa and Monadenia dubiosa were found in semiarid paleosols, but Vespericola dalli and Monadenia marginicola were found in subhumid paleosols. Cicada burrows (Naktodemasis bowni) were found in semiarid paleosols, whereas dung beetle balls (Pallichnus dakotensis) and earthworm castings (Edaphichnium lumbricatum) were found in subhumid paleosols. Among hypertragulids, Hypertragulus hesperius was found in semiarid paleosols and Nanotragulus planiceps in subhumid paleosols. Among glires, the aplodontiid Haplomys liolophus, geomyids Pleurolicus sulcifrons and several species of Entoptychus, castorid Palaeocastor peninsulatus, and leporid Archaeolagus ennisianus were found in semiarid paleosols. Large ungulates were found primarily in subhumid paleosols, including the agriochoere Agriochoerus antiquus, oreodonts Eporeodon occidentalis and Promerycochoerus superbus, equid Miohippus annectens, and rhinos Diceratherium annectens and Diceratherium armatum. The inferred niches of fossil mammals are consistent with interpretations based on their morphology; taxa with adaptations for life in open, arid habitats, such as high-crowned teeth and semifossorial or cursorial limb structure, were mainly in semiarid paleosols, but taxa with arboreal adaptations were only found in subhumid paleosols.