Skeletal completeness of the non-avian theropod dinosaur fossil record

Daniel Cashmore, Richard Butler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)
364 Downloads (Pure)


Non-avian theropods were a highly successful clade of bipedal, predominantly carnivorous, dinosaurs. Their diversity and macroevolutionary patterns have been the subject of many studies. Changes in fossil specimen completeness through time and space can bias our understanding of macroevolution. Here, we quantify the completeness of 455 non-avian theropod species using the skeletal completeness metric (SCM), which calculates the proportion of a complete skeleton preserved for a specimen. Temporal patterns of theropod skeletal completeness show peaks in the Carnian, Oxfordian–Kimmeridgian and Barremian–Aptian, and lows in the Berriasian and Hauterivian. Lagerstätten primarily drive the peaks in completeness and observed taxonomic diversity in the Oxfordian–Kimmeridgian and the Barremian–Aptian. Theropods have a significantly lower distribution of completeness scores than contemporary sauropodomorph dinosaurs but change in completeness through time for the two groups shows a significant correlation when conservation Lagerstätten are excluded, possibly indicating that both records are primarily driven by geology and sampling availability. Our results reveal relatively weak temporal sampling biases acting on the theropod record but relatively strong spatial and environmental biases. Asia has a significantly more complete record than any other continent, the mid northern latitudes have the highest abundance of finds, and most complete theropod skeletons come from lacustrine and aeolian environments. We suggest that these patterns result from historical research focus, modern climate dynamics, and depositional transportation energy plus association with conservation Lagerstätten, respectively. Furthermore, we find possible ecological biases acting on different theropod subgroups, but body size does not influence theropod completeness on a global scale.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)951-981
Number of pages31
Issue number6
Early online date1 Jul 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2019


  • Theropoda
  • Dinosaurs
  • Skeletal
  • Completeness metrics
  • Lagerstätten
  • Sampling bias


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