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Data for: Africa’s oldest dinosaurs reveal early suppression of dinosaur distribution

Cite this dataset

Griffin, Christopher et al. (2022). Data for: Africa’s oldest dinosaurs reveal early suppression of dinosaur distribution [Dataset]. Dryad.


The vertebrate lineages that would shape Mesozoic and Cenozoic terrestrial ecosystems originated across Triassic Pangaea. By the Late Triassic (Carnian Stage, ~235 Ma), cosmopolitan ‘disaster faunas’ had given way to highly endemic assemblages on the supercontinent. Testing the tempo and mode of the establishment of this endemism is challenging—there were few geographic barriers to dispersal across Pangaea during the Late Triassic. Instead, palaeolatitudinal climate belts, and not continental boundaries, are hypothesized to have controlled distribution. During this time of high endemism, dinosaurs began to disperse and thus offer an opportunity to test the timing and drivers of this biogeographic pattern. Increased sampling can test this prediction: if dinosaurs initially dispersed under palaeolatitudinal-driven endemism, then an assemblage similar to those of South America and India—including the earliest dinosaurs—should be present in Carnian deposits in south-central Africa. Here, we report a new Carnian assemblage from Zimbabwe which includes Africa’s oldest definitive dinosaurs, including a nearly complete skeleton of the sauropodomorph Mbiresaurus raathi, gen. et sp. nov. This assemblage resembles those of other dinosaur-bearing Carnian assemblages, suggesting that a similar vertebrate fauna ranged high-latitude austral Pangaea. The distribution of the first dinosaurs is correlated with palaeolatitude-linked climatic barriers, and dinosaurian dispersal to the rest of the supercontinent was delayed until these barriers relaxed, suggesting that climatic controls influenced the initial composition of the terrestrial faunas that persist to this day.


National Geographic Society, Award: NGS-157R-18

National Geographic Society, Award: CP-R004-17

National Science Foundation, Award: Graduate Research Fellowship Program

São Paulo Research Foundation, Award: FAPESP 2020/07997-4