Dinosaur morphological diversity and the end-Cretaceous extinction

Nat Commun. 2012 May 1:3:804. doi: 10.1038/ncomms1815.


The extinction of non-avian dinosaurs 65 million years ago is a perpetual topic of fascination, and lasting debate has focused on whether dinosaur biodiversity was in decline before end-Cretaceous volcanism and bolide impact. Here we calculate the morphological disparity (anatomical variability) exhibited by seven major dinosaur subgroups during the latest Cretaceous, at both global and regional scales. Our results demonstrate both geographic and clade-specific heterogeneity. Large-bodied bulk-feeding herbivores (ceratopsids and hadrosauroids) and some North American taxa declined in disparity during the final two stages of the Cretaceous, whereas carnivorous dinosaurs, mid-sized herbivores, and some Asian taxa did not. Late Cretaceous dinosaur evolution, therefore, was complex: there was no universal biodiversity trend and the intensively studied North American record may reveal primarily local patterns. At least some dinosaur groups, however, did endure long-term declines in morphological variability before their extinction.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Americas
  • Animals
  • Biodiversity
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Dinosaurs / anatomy & histology*
  • Dinosaurs / classification
  • Dinosaurs / genetics*
  • Extinction, Biological*
  • Fossils
  • Herbivory / classification
  • Herbivory / genetics*
  • Paleontology