Skip to main content Accessibility help

Dynamic biogeographic models and dinosaur origins

  • Michael S. Y. LEE (a1) (a2), Matthew G. BARON (a3) (a4), David B. NORMAN (a3) and Paul M. BARRETT (a4)


A comprehensive analysis of early dinosaur relationships raised the possibility that the group may have originated in Laurasia (Northern Hemisphere), rather than Gondwana (Southern Hemisphere) as often thought. However, that study focused solely on morphology and phylogenetic relationships and did not quantitatively evaluate this issue. Here, we investigate dinosaur origins using a novel Bayesian framework uniting tip-dated phylogenetics with dynamic, time-sliced biogeographic methods, which explicitly account for the age and locality of fossils and the changing interconnections of areas through time due to tectonic and eustatic change. Our analysis finds strong support for a Gondwanan origin of Dinosauria, with 99 % probability for South America (83 % for southern South America). Parsimony analysis gives concordant results. Inclusion of time-sliced biogeographic information affects ancestral state reconstructions (e.g., high connectivity between two regions increases uncertainty over which is the ancestral area) and influences tree topology (disfavouring uniting fossil taxa from localities that were widely separated during the relevant time slice). Our approach directly integrates plate tectonics with phylogenetics and divergence dating, and in doing so reaffirms southern South America as the most likely area for the geographic origin of Dinosauria.


Corresponding author

*Corresponding author


Hide All
Alekseyenko, A. V., Lee, C. & Suchard, M. A. 2008. Wagner and Dollo: a stochastic duet by composing two parsimonious solos. Systematic Biology 57, 772784.
Baron, M. G. 2018. The origin and early evolution of the Dinosauria. PhD Dissertation, University of Cambridge, UK.
Baron, M. G., Norman, D. B. & Barrett, P. M. 2017a. A new hypothesis of dinosaur relationships and early dinosaur evolution. Nature 543, 501506.
Baron, M. G., Norman, D. B. & Barrett, P. M. 2017b. Baron et al. Reply. Nature 551, E4E5.
Baron, M. G. & Williams, M. E. 2018. A re-evaluation of the enigmatic dinosauriform Caseosaurus crosbyensis from the Late Triassic of Texas, USA and its implications for early dinosaur evolution. Acta Palaeontologica Polonica 63, 129145.10.4202/app.00372.2017
Bernardi, M., Klein, H., Petti, F. M. & Ezcurra, M. D. 2015. The origin and early radiation of archosauriforms: integrating the skeletal and footprint record. PLoS ONE 10, e0128449.
Bielejec, F., Lemey, P., Baele, G., Rambaut, A. & Suchard, M. A. 2014. Inferring heterogeneous evolutionary processes through time: from sequence substitution to phylogeography. Systematic Biology 63, 493504.
Boyd, C. A. 2015. The systematic relationships and biogeographic history of ornithischian dinosaurs. PeerJ 3, e1523.
Brusatte, S. L., Nesbitt, S. J., Irmis, R. B., Butler, R. J., Benton, M. J. & Norell, M. A. 2010. The origin and early radiation of dinosaurs. Earth-Science Reviews 101, 68100.
Cabreira, S. F., Schultz, C. L., Bittencourt, J. & Langer, M. C. 2011. New stem-sauropodomorph (Dinosauria, Saurischia) from the Triassic of Brazil. Naturwissenschaften 98, 10351040.
Cabreira, S. F., Kellner, A. W. A., Dias-da-Silva, S., da Silva, L. R., Bronzati, M., Marsola, J. C. d. A., Müller, R. T., Bittencourt, J. d. S., Batista, B. J. A., Raugust, T., Carrilho, R., Brodt, A. & Langer, M. C. 2016. A unique Late Triassic dinosauromorph assemblage reveals dinosaur ancestral anatomy and diet. Current Biology 26, 16.
Drummond, A. J., Ho, S. Y. W., Phillips, M. J. & Rambaut, A. 2006. Relaxed phylogenetics and dating with confidence. PLoS Biology 4, e88.
Drummond, A. J., Suchard, M. A., Xie, D. & Rambaut, A. 2012. Bayesian phylogenetics with BEAUti and the BEAST 1.7. Molecular Biology and Evolution 29, 19691973.
Drummond, A. J. & Suchard, M. A. 2010. Bayesian random local clocks, or one rate to rule them all. BMC Biology 8, 114.
Ezcurra, M. D. 2010. A new early dinosaur (Saurischia: Sauropodomorpha) from the Late Triassic of Argentina: a reassessment of dinosaur origin and phylogeny. Journal of Systematic Palaeontology 8, 371425.10.1080/14772019.2010.484650
Gavryushkina, A., Heath, T. A., Ksepka, D. T., Stadler, T., Welch, D. & Drummond, A. J. 2017. Bayesian total-evidence dating reveals the recent crown radiation of penguins. Systematic Biology 66, 5773.
Harrison, L. B. & Larsson, H. C. E. 2015. Among-character rate variation distributions in phylogenetic analysis of discrete morphological characters. Systematic Biology 64, 307324.
Hoyal Cuthill, J. F. 2015. The morphological state space revisited: what do phylogenetic patterns in homoplasy tell us about the number of possible character states? Interface Focus 5, 20150049.
Hunn, C. A. & Upchurch, P. 2001. The importance of time/space in diagnosing the causality of phylogenetic events: towards a ‘chronobiogeographical' paradigm? Systematic Biology 50, 391407.
Irmis, R. B., Nesbitt, S. J., Padian, K., Smith, N. D., Turner, A. H., Woody, D. & Downs, A. 2007. A Late Triassic dinosauromorph assemblage from New Mexico and the rise of dinosaurs. Science 317, 358361.10.1126/science.1143325
Kass, R. E. & Raftery, A. E. 1995. Bayes factors. Journal of the American Statistical Association 90, 773795.
King, B., Qiao, T., Lee, M. S. Y., Min, Z. & Long, J. A. 2017. Bayesian morphological clock methods resurrect placoderm monophyly and reveal rapid early evolution in jawed vertebrates. Systematic Biology 66, 499516.
King, B. & Lee, M. S. Y. 2015. Ancestral state reconstruction, rate heterogeneity, and the evolution of reptile viviparity. Systematic Biology 64, 532544.
Ksepka, D. T., Fordyce, R. E., Ando, T. & Jones, C. M. 2012. New fossil penguins (Aves, Sphenisciformes) from the Oligocene of New Zealand reveal the skeletal plan of stem penguins. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 32, 235254.
Landis, M. J. 2016. Biogeographic dating of speciation times using paleogeographically informed processes. Systematic Biology 66, 128144.
Langer, M. C., Ezcurra, M. D., Bittencourt, J. S. & Novas, F. E. 2010. The origin and early evolution of dinosaurs. Biological Review 85, 55110.
Langer, M. C., Ezcurra, M. D., Rauhut, O. W. M., Benton, M. J., Knoll, F., McPhee, B. W., Novas, F. E., Pol, D. & Brusatte, S. L. 2017. Untangling the dinosaur family tree. Nature 551, E1–E3.
Lee, M. S. Y. & Palci, A. 2015. Morphological phylogenetics in the genomic age. Current Biology 25, R922–29.
Lemey, P., Rambaut, A. & Drummond, A. J. 2009. Bayesian phylogeography finds its roots. PLoS Computational Biology 5, e1000520.
Lewis, P. O. 2001. A likelihood approach to estimating phylogeny from discrete morphological character data. Systematic Biology 50, 913925.
Maddison, W. P. & Maddison, D. R. 2017. Mesquite: a modular system for evolutionary analysis. Version 3.2
Martinez, R. N., Sereno, P. C., Alcober, O. A., Columbi, C. E., Renne, P. R., Montanez, I. P. & Curre, B. S. 2011. A basal dinosaur from the dawn of the dinosaur era in southwestern Pangaea. Science 331, 206210.
Martinez, R. N. & Alcober, O. A. 2009. A basal sauropodomorph (Dinosauria: Saurischia) from the Ischigualasto Formation (Triassic, Carnian) and the early evolution of Sauropodomorpha. PLoS ONE 4, e4397.
Matzke, N. J. 2013. Probabilistic historical biogeography: new models for founder-event speciation, imperfect detection, and fossils allow improved accuracy and model-testing. Frontiers of Biogeography 5, 242248.
Nesbitt, S. J., Smith, N. A., Irmis, R. B., Turner, A. H., Downs, A. & Norell, M. A. 2009. A complete skeleton of a Late Triassic saurischian and the early evolution of dinosaurs. Science 326, 15301533.
Nesbitt, S. J., Barrett, P. M., Werning, S., Sidor, C. A. & Charig, A. J. 2013. The oldest dinosaur? A Middle Triassic dinosauriform from Tanzania. Biology Letters 9, 20120949.
Nesbitt, S. J., Butler, R. J., Ezcurra, M. D., Barrett, P. M., Stocker, M. R., Angielczyk, K. D., Smith, R. M. H., Sidor, C. A., Niedzwiedzki, G., Sennikov, A. G. & Charig, A. J. 2017. The earliest bird-line archosaurs and the assembly of the dinosaur body plan. Nature 544, 484487.
Niedźwiedzki, G., Brusatte, S. L., Sulej, T. & Butler, R. J. 2014. Basal dinosauriform and theropod dinosaurs from the mid–late Norian (Late Triassic) of Poland: implications for Triassic dinosaur evolution and distribution. Palaeontology 57, 11211142.
Norman, D. B. 1998. On Asian ornithopods (Dinosauria: Ornithischia). 3. A new species of iguanodontid dinosaur. Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society 122, 291348.
Nylander, J. A. A., Wilgenbusch, J. C., Warren, D. L. & Swofford, D. L. 2008. AWTY (are we there yet?): a system for graphical exploration of MCMC convergence in Bayesian phylogenetics. Bioinformatics 24, 581583.
O'Reilly, J. E., Puttick, M. N., Parry, L., Tanner, A. R., Tarver, J. E., Fleming, J., Pisani, D. & Donoghue, P. C. 2016. Bayesian methods outperform parsimony but at the expense of precision in the estimation of phylogeny from discrete morphological data. Biology Letters 12, 20160081.
Parry, L. A., Baron, M. G. & Vinther, J. 2017. Multiple optimality criteria support Ornithoscelida. Royal Society Open Science 4, 170833.
Poropat, S. F., Mannion, P. D., Upchurch, P., Hocknull, S. A., Kear, B. P., Kundrat, M., Tischler, T. R., Sloan, T., Sinapius, G. H. K., Elliott, J. A. & Elliott, D. A. 2016. New Australian sauropods shed light on cretaceous dinosaur palaeobiogeography. Scientific Reports 6, 34467.
Rambaut, A. 2016. Figtree v1.4.3. Available from
Rambaut, A., Drummond, A. J., Xie, D., Baele, G. & Suchard, M. A. 2018. Posterior summarisation in Bayesian phylogenetics using Tracer 1.7. Systematic Biology 67, 901904.
Ronquist, F., Klopfstein, S., Vilhelmsen, L., Schulmeister, S., Murray, L. & Rasnitsyn, A. P. 2012. A total-evidence approach to dating with fossils, applied to the early radiation of the Hymenoptera. Systematic Biology 61, 973999.
Rossie, J. B. & Seiffert, E. R. 2006. Continental paleobiogeography as phylogenetic evidence. In Lehman, S.M. & Fleagle, J. G. (eds) Primate biogeography. 469522. New York: Springer.
Rowe, T. B., Sues, H.-D. & Reisz, R. R. 2011. Dispersal and diversity in the earliest North American sauropodomorph dinosaurs, with a description of a new taxon. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 27, 10441053.
Sanders, K. L., Rasmussen, A. R., Mumpuni Elmberg, J., de Silva, A. Guinea, M., Lee, M. S. 2013. Recent rapid speciation and ecomorph divergence in Indo-Australian sea snakes. Molecular Ecology 22, 27422759.
Schaefer, H., Hechenleitner, P., Santos-Guerra, A., de Sequeira, M. M., Pennington, R. T., Kenicer, G. & Carine, M. A. 2012. Systematics, biogeography, and character evolution of the legume tribe Fabeae with special focus on the middle-Atlantic island lineages. BMC Evolutionary Biology 12, 250.
Sereno, P. C. 1999. The evolution of dinosaurs. Science 284, 21372147.
Stadler, T. 2010. Sampling-through-time in birth-death trees. Journal of Theoretical Biology 267, 396404.
Suchard, M. A., Lemey, P., Baele, G., Ayres, D. L., Drummond, A. J. & Rambaut, A. 2018. Bayesian phylogenetic and phylodynamic data integration using BEAST 1.10. Virus Evolution 4, vey016.
Sues, H. D., Nesbitt, S. J., Berman, D. S. & Henrici, A. C. 2011. A late-surviving basal theropod dinosaur from the latest Triassic of North America. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 278, 34593464.
Swofford, D. L. 2003. PAUP*. phylogenetic analysis using parsimony (*and other methods). version 4. Sunderland, MA: Sinauer Associates.
Wright, A. M. & Hillis, D. M. 2014. Bayesian analysis using a simple likelihood model outperforms parsimony for estimation of phylogeny from discrete morphological data. PLoS ONE 9, e109210.
Xie, W., Lewis, P. O., Fan, Y., Kuo, L. & Chen, M.-H. 2011. Improving marginal likelihood estimation for Bayesian phylogenetic model selection. Systematic Biology 60, 150160.
Yang, Z. 1994. Maximum likelihood phylogenetic estimation from DNA sequences with variable rates over sites: approximate methods. Journal of Molecular Evolution 39, 306314.
Yates, A. M. 2003. A new species of the primitive dinosaur Thecodontosaurus (saurischia: Sauropodomorpha) and its implications for the systematics of early dinosaurs. Journal of Systematic Palaeontology 1, 142.


Type Description Title
Supplementary materials

Lee et al. supplementary material
Lee et al. supplementary material 1

 Unknown (1.6 MB)
1.6 MB

Dynamic biogeographic models and dinosaur origins

  • Michael S. Y. LEE (a1) (a2), Matthew G. BARON (a3) (a4), David B. NORMAN (a3) and Paul M. BARRETT (a4)


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed