Taxonomic identification bias does not drive patterns of abundance and diversity in theropod dinosaurs

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The ability of palaeontologists to correctly diagnose and classify new fossil species from incomplete morphological data is fundamental to our understanding of evolution. Different parts of the vertebrate skeleton have different likelihoods of fossil preservation and varying amounts of taxonomic information, which could bias our interpretations of fossil material. Substantial previous research has focused on the diversity and macroevolution of non-avian theropod dinosaurs. Theropods provide a rich dataset for analysis of the interactions between taxonomic diagnosability and fossil preservation. We use specimen data and formal taxonomic diagnoses to create a new metric, the Likelihood of Diagnosis (LoD), which quantifies the diagnostic likelihood of fossil species in relation to bone preservation potential. We use this to assess whether a taxonomic identification bias impacts the non-avian theropod fossil record. We find the patterns of differential species abundance and clade diversity are not a consequence of their relative diagnosability. Although there are other factors that bias the theropod fossil record, that are not investigated here, our results suggest patterns of relative abundance and diversity for theropods might be more representative of Mesozoic ecology than often considered.


Original languageEnglish
Article number20210168
Number of pages7
JournalBiology Letters
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 14 Jul 2021


  • theropod dinosaurs, taxonomic identification, diagnostic, bias, preservation