Thursday, March 29, 2007

The Golden Age of Dino Discoveries

From BBC News:

Peter Dodson & Steve Wang created a computer model that came up with an astonishing prediction--it estimated that the museums and research institutes in the world only hold around 30% of the dinosaur fossils that may exist - the other 70% are still in the ground.

"When we submitted our study, we knew of 527 kinds of dinosaur," he said.

"Based on what has gone before, we projected into the future and found that at some point - we can't say when, but sometime in the next century or two, when we've found all the dinosaurs out there to find - the total number will be about 1,850 genres, or kinds, of dinosaur."

Estimating the diversity of dinosaurs. 2006. S. C. Wang and P. Dodson. PNAS 103 (37): 13601-13605.

Abstract: Despite current interest in estimating the diversity of fossil and extant groups, little effort has been devoted to estimating the diversity of dinosaurs. Here we estimate the diversity of nonavian dinosaurs at 1,850 genera, including those that remain to be discovered. With 527 genera currently described, at least 71% of dinosaur genera thus remain unknown. Although known diversity declined in the last stage of the Cretaceous, estimated diversity was steady, suggesting that dinosaurs as a whole were not in decline in the 10 million years before their ultimate extinction. We also show that known diversity is biased by the availability of fossiliferous rock outcrop. Finally, by using a logistic model, we predict that 75% of discoverable genera will be known within 60–100 years and 90% within 100–140 years. Because of nonrandom factors affecting the process of fossil discovery (which preclude the possibility of computing realistic confidence bounds), our estimate of diversity is likely to be a lower bound.