Display Settings:


Send to:

Choose Destination
See comment in PubMed Commons below
Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1990 Oct;87(19):7608-12.

Counting dinosaurs: how many kinds were there?

Author information

  • 1Department of Animal Biology, School of Veterinary Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia 19104-6045.


Dinosaurs figure prominently in discussions of mass extinctions and evolutionary metrics, but their usefulness is hampered by archaic taxonomy, imprecise biostratigraphy, and imperfect preservation that bias our understanding of dinosaur diversity. A critical evaluation shows that of 540 genera and 800 species of dinosaurs proposed since 1824, 285 genera and 336 species are probably valid. Nearly half of all genera are based on a single specimen, and complete skulls and skeletons are known for only 20% of all dinosaurs. Dinosaurs are known from every continent. Countries with the greatest known diversity of dinosaurs are (in descending order) the United States, Mongolia, China, Canada, England, and Argentina; the greatest future increases may be expected from Argentina and China. Nearly half of all dinosaur genera are of latest Cretaceous age (Campanian or Maastrichtian). Estimates of the average duration of a dinosaur genus range from 5 million to 10.5 million years, with the most likely value about 7.7 million years. Dinosaurs evolved as rapidly as Cenozoic mammals. Global dinosaur diversity during the Campanian and Maastrichtian is estimated at 100 genera per stage, using a logistic model to estimate future discoveries. A model of increasing diversity and a bottleneck model compensate for the biasis in the preserved fossil record. The number of dinosaurs that have ever lived is estimated at 900-1200 genera. The fossil record of dinosaurs is presently about 25% complete. Dinosaurs disappeared in the Maastrichtian near the peak of their historic diversity.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article
PubMed Commons home

PubMed Commons

How to join PubMed Commons

    Supplemental Content

    Full text links

    Icon for HighWire Icon for PubMed Central
    Loading ...
    Write to the Help Desk