Vast Majority of Dinosaurs Still to Be Found, Scientists Say

September 5, 2006

Dinosaur fans still have a lot to look forward to.

According to a new estimate of dinosaur diversity, the 21st century will bring an avalanche of new discoveries.

"We only know about 29 percent of all dinosaurs out there to be found," said study co-author Peter Dodson, a paleobiologist and anatomy professor at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

Dodson and statistics professor Steve Wang of Swarthmore College, in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania, made a statistical analysis of an exhaustive database of all known dinosaur genera, or genuses (the taxonomic group one notch above species).

They then used this data to estimate the total number of genera preserved in the fossil record.

The pair predicts that scientists will eventually discover 1,844 dinosaur genera in total—at least 1,300 more than the 527 recognized today from remains other than isolated teeth.

What's more, the duo believes that 75 percent of these dinos will be discovered within the next 60 to 100 years and 90 percent within 100 to 140 years, based on an analysis of historical discovery patterns.

The tally applies only to specimens preserved as fossils. Many other types of dinosaurs likely roamed the Earth during the dinosaurs' 160-million-year reign, but remains from these species will never be known to science, the researchers say.

(See photos from "Dinosaurs Come Alive" in National Geographic magazine.)

The exact total is less important than the order of magnitude, Dodson says.

"What's interesting is we've estimated 1,800 [total dinosaur genera]. But it's not 18,000 or 18 million."

These findings suggest that dinosaurs, which average about 1.2 species per genus, were far less diverse in their heyday than birds (at about 9,500 species) or mammals (at about 4,500 species) are today.

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