Papers in the Biological Sciences


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Published in Science 371, 941–944 (2021).

DOI: 10.1126/science.abd9220


Copyright © 2021 Katlin Schroeder, S. Kathleen Lyons, and Felisa A. Smith; published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Used by permission.


Despite dominating biodiversity in the Mesozoic, dinosaurs were not speciose. Oviparity constrained even gigantic dinosaurs to less than 15 kg at birth; growth through multiple morphologies led to the consumption of different resources at each stage. Such disparity between neonates and adults could have influenced the structure and diversity of dinosaur communities. Here, we quantified this effect for 43 communities across 136 million years and seven continents. We found that megatheropods (more than 1000 kg) such as tyrannosaurs had specific effects on dinosaur community structure. Although herbivores spanned the body size range, communities with megatheropods lacked carnivores weighing 100 to 1000 kg. We demonstrate that juvenile megatheropods likely filled the mesocarnivore niche, resulting in reduced overall taxonomic diversity. The consistency of this pattern suggests that ontogenetic niche shift was an important factor in generating dinosaur community structure and diversity.

Includes Supplementary materials