Skip to main content Accessibility help

What the Fossil Record of Dinosaurs Tells Us

  • Peter Dodson (a1)


Dinosaurs were enormously successful animals. They inhabited all seven continents, including polar regions during the Mesozoic. Their temporal range, as currently understood, extends from the Carnian stage of the Late Triassic beginning 228 Ma, to the Maastrichtian stage of the Late Cretaceous, ending 65 Ma. With a temporal span of 163 million years, dinosaurs cannot be judged as failures by puny naked bipeds who have been here for two million years or less and who threaten not only their own existence but that of much of the biosphere. The fossil record of dinosaurs is a complex document that cannot merely be read at face value but which must be carefully evaluated with respect to its inherent biases. There is much we wish to ask about dinosaurs that can only be answered with a mature reliable record. The object of this essay is to discuss some of the factors that impact both on dinosaur diversity itself, and on our understanding of that diversity. While fossils have an objective existence in the rocks, our understanding of their record is the result of a very human process of scientific discovery, subject to the contingencies and biases of history (Dodson, and Dawson, 1991).



Hide All
Alvarez, W., and Asaro, F. 1990. An extraterrestrial impact. Scientific American, 263 (4): 7884.
Anderson, T.F. 1990. Temperature from oxygen isotope ratios, p. 403406. In Briggs, D.E.G., and Crowther, P.R. (eds.), Palaeobiology A Synthesis. Blackwell Scientific Publications, London.
Archibald, J.D. 1992. Dinosaur extinction: how much and how fast? Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, 12: 263264.
Bonaparte, J.F. 1991. Los vertebrados fosiles de la Formacion Rio Colorado, de la Ciudad Neuquen y Cercanias, Cretacico Superior, Argentina. Revista Museo Argentino de Ciencias Naturales Bernardino Rivadavia, 4 (3): 17123.
Chinsamy, A. 1990. Physiological implications of the bone histology of Syntarsus rhodesiensis . Palaeontologia africana, 27: 7782.
Chinsamy, A. 1993. Bone histology and growth trajectory of the prosauropod dinosaur Massospondylus carinatus (Owen). Modern Geology, 18: 319329.
Courtillot, V.E. 1990. A volcanic eruption. Scientific American, 263 (4): 8592.
Currie, P.J. 1987. Bird-like characteristics of the jaws and teeth of troodontid theropods (Dinosauria, Saurischia). Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, 7: 7281.
Currie, P.J., Rigby, J. K. Jr., and Sloan, R. E. 1990. Theropod teeth from the Judith River Formation of southern Alberta, p. 107125. In Carpenter, K., and Currie, P.J. (eds), Dinosaur Systematics Approaches and Perspectives. Cambridge University Press, New York.
Dodson, P. 1975. Taxonomic implications of relative growth in lambeosaurine hadrosaurs. Systematic Zoology, 24: 3754.
Dodson, P. 1976. Quantitative aspects of relative growth and sexual dimorphism in Protoceratops . Journal of Paleontology, 50: 929940.
Dodson, P. 1990a. Counting dinosaurs: how many kinds were there? Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, 87:76087612.
Dodson, P. 1990b. On the status of the ceratopsids Monoclonius and Centrosaurus , p. 231243. In Carpenter, K., and Currie, P.J. (eds.), Dinosaur Systematics Approaches and Perspectives, Cambridge University Press, New York.
Dodson, P. and Dawson, S.D. 1991. Making the fossil record of dinosaurs. Modern Geology, 16: 315.
Fiorillo, A.R. 1991. Taphonomy and depositional setting of the Careless Creek Quarry (Judith River Formation), Wheatland County, Montana, U.S.A. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology, 81: 281311.
Forster, C.A. 1990. The postcranial skeleton of the ornithopod dinosaur Tenontosaurus tilletti . Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, 10: 273294.
Glen, W. 1990. What killed the dinosaurs? American Scientist, 78: 354369.
Haubold, H. 1990. Dinosaurs and fluctuating sea levels during the Mesozoic. Historical Biology, 4: 75106.
Holtz, T.R. Jr. 1993. Paleobiogeography of Late Mesozoic dinosaurs: implications for paleoecology. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, 13 (Supplement No. 3): 42A.
Horner, J.R., Varrichio, D.J., and Goodwin, M.B. 1992. Marine transgression and the evolution of Cretaceous dinosaurs. Nature, 358: 5961.
Kurzanov, S.M. 1992. A giant protoceratopsid from the Upper Cretaceous of Mongolia. Paleontological Journal, 1992: 8193. (in Russian).
Lehman, T.M. 1989. Chasmosaurus mariscalensis, sp. nov., a new ceratopsian dinosaur from Texas. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, 9: 137162.
Macdonald, D.E. 1984. The Encyclopedia of Mammals. Facts on File. New York.
Norman, D.B., and Weishampel, D.B. 1985. Ornithopod feeding mechanisms: their bearing on the evolution of herbivory. American Naturalist, 126: 151164.
Norman, D.B., and Weishampel, D.B. 1990. Iguanodontidae and related ornithopoda, p. 510533. In Weishampel, D.B., Dodson, P., and Osmolska, H. (eds.), The Dinosauria. University of California Press, Los Angeles.
Olshevsky, G. 1991. A Revision of the Parainfraclass Archosauria Cope, 1869, Excluding the Advanced Crocodylia. Publications Requiring Research, San Diego.
Ostrom, J.H., and Wellnhofer, P. 1986. The Munich specimen of Triceratops with a revision of the genus. Zitteliana, 14: 111158.
Perle, A., Norell, M.A., Chiappe, L.M., and Clark, J.M. 1993. Flightless bird from the Cretaceous of Mongolia. Nature, 362: 623626.
Raup, D.M. 1976. Species diversity in the Phanerozoic: an interpretation. Paleobiology, 2: 289297.
Rogers, R. R. 1990. Taphonomy of three dinosaur bone beds in the Upper Cretaceous Two Medicine Formation of northwestern Montana: evidence for drought-related mortality. Palaios, 5: 394413.
Russell, D.A. 1989. An Odyssey in Time The Dinosaurs of North America. University of Toronto Press, Toronto.
Sereno, P.C. 1990. New data on parrot-beaked dinosaurs (Psittacosaurus), p. 203210. In Carpenter, K., and Currie, P.J. (eds), Dinosaur Systematics Approaches and Perspectives. Cambridge University Press, New York.
Sheehan, P.M., Fastovsky, D.E., Hoffmann, R.G., Berghaus, C.B., and Gabriel, D. 1991. Sudden extinction of the dinosaurs: latest Cretaceous, Upper Great Plains, U.S.A. Science, 254: 835839.
Signor, P.W. III. 1985. Real and apparent trends in species richness through time, p. 129150. In Valentine, J.W., (ed.) Phanerozoic Diversity Patterns Profiles in Macroevolution. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ.
Weishampel, D.B. 1990. Dinosaur distribution. p. 63139. In Weishampel, D.B., Dodson, P., and Osmolska, H. (eds.), The Dinosauria. University of California Press, Los Angeles.
Weishampel, D.B., Dodson, P., and Osmolska, H., eds. 1990. The Dinosauria. University of California Press, Los Angeles, 723 p.

What the Fossil Record of Dinosaurs Tells Us

  • Peter Dodson (a1)


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