Tracing the patterns of non‐marine turtle richness from the Triassic to the Palaeogene: from origin to global spread

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  • Terri Cleary
  • Roger B. J. Benson
  • Patricia A. Holroyd
  • Paul M. Barrett
  • Philip Mannion

Colleges, School and Institutes


Turtles are key components of modern vertebrate faunas and their diversity and distributions are likely to be affected by anthropogenic climate change. However, there is limited baseline data on turtle taxonomic richness through time or assessment of their past responses to global environmental change. We used the extensive Triassic–Palaeogene (252–223 Ma) fossil record of terrestrial and freshwater turtles to investigate diversity patterns, finding substantial variation in richness through time and between continents. Globally, turtle richness was low from their Triassic origin until the Late Jurassic. There is strong evidence for high richness in the earliest Cretaceous of Europe, becoming especially high following the Cretaceous Thermal Maximum and declining in all continents by the end‐Cretaceous. At the K–Pg boundary, South American richness levels changed little while North American richness increased, becoming very high during the earliest Palaeogene (Danian). Informative data are lacking elsewhere for this time period. However, the Selandian–Thanetian interval, approximately 5 myr after the K–Pg mass extinction, shows low turtle richness in Asia, Europe and South America, suggesting that the occurrence of exceptional turtle richness in the post‐extinction Paleocene fauna of North America is not globally representative. Richness decreased over the Eocene–Oligocene boundary in North America but increased to its greatest known level for Europe, implying very different responses to dramatic climatic shifts. Time series regressions suggest number of formations sampled and palaeotemperature are the primary influencers of face‐value richness counts, but additional factors not tested here may also be involved.


Original languageEnglish
Early online date10 May 2020
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 10 May 2020


  • Testudinata, turtle, species‐richness, Mesozoic, Palaeogene, subsampling