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  • It goes without saying that many of our most precious resources are also the most limited.

  • Like, there’s only a certain amount of land that we can build on,

  • there’s only so much gold that we can mine... and there’s always the possibility of a bacon shortage.

  • And for some scientists, there’s another commodity that’s in increasingly short supply.

  • Dinosaurs.

  • Over the last couple of centuries, weve found thousands of dinosaur bones. But only a limited number of species ever existed, right?

  • So some paleontologists have been wondering how many species of dinosaurs are actually left for us to discover

  • and how many fossils of them are out there?

  • Might sound like a funny thing for scientists to ponder, but it’s really an extension of a larger question that theyve been wrestling with

  • which is: How many different kinds of dinosaurs were there in the first place?

  • Scientists who study living organisms deal with these questions all the time

  • like, how many different types of plants and animals are living in this forest glade? Or how many

  • Or how many microbes are in this petridish?

  • Since they can’t possibly count every single organism, they just count a small sample.

  • Then, they use statistics and probabilities to come up with a mathematical model of what that whole population might look like.

  • And in 2006, a team of biologists and statisticians used these methods to estimate Earth’s population of extinct dinosaurs.

  • Specifically, they wanted to figure out how many types of dinosaurs there once were,

  • as well as how long it would take us to find fossils of each.

  • Scientists usually count dinosaurs by genus

  • that’s the taxonomic rank just abovespeciesbecause nine times out of ten, there’s only one species of dinosaur per genus.

  • So the team started cataloging how many dinosaur genera had already been discovered.

  • Then they focused on how many of those genera were really common, and how many were really rare.

  • In many cases, for example, a dinosaur genus might consist of just one known specimen,

  • like the cute and creepy Segisaurus, which used to scamper around what is now Arizona.

  • But other genera were really common,

  • like, you can hardly swing a pick-axe in parts of America’s Northern Plains without hitting a fossil of Edmontosaurus.

  • So, based on the abundance, or scarcity, of known organisms, scientists estimate the diversity of unknown ones as well.

  • Or at least, they try to.

  • And the results so far suggest that while there are a lot of dinosaurs still out there for us to find,

  • we may have less than 200 years of good dinosaur hunting left.

  • As of 2006, the study concluded, we had discovered just 29 percent of the 1,850 dinosaur genera they think are out there, waiting to be found.

  • So, how soon until we find the very last known genus of dinosaur?

  • Well, because of better techniques being used in paleontology, were discovering new dinosaurs faster than ever before.

  • The very first dinosaur fossil was identified in 1824. For the next hundred and fifty years,

  • paleontologists only discovered an average of one new genus of dinosaur every year.

  • But now, were racking up an average of 15 new genera every year.

  • And as a result, according to scientistscalculations, somewhere between the years 2037 and 2056,

  • well have found 50% of the dinosaur genera that ever existed.

  • You might think of this aspeak dinosaur”. At that point, there would be more known dinosaurs than unknown ones.

  • Afterpeak dinosaur,” there will be fewer genera left to discover, and the remaining ones will probably be scarcer.

  • So the number of finds per year will start to decline.

  • But for a while, well still be finding them often enough to keep dinosaur-hunters busy.

  • Between 2069 and 2102, according to these projections, well have found 75% of the dinosaur genera.

  • By the mid-22nd century, 90%.

  • And by the year 2200, there will be only a few genera left, and theyll be harder to find than ever.

  • At that point, even though there will probably still be some surprise discoveries of new dinosaurs every so often, those finds will be extremely rare.

  • Basically, the golden age of dinosaur discovery will be behind us.

  • However, these are just statistical estimates. It’s impossible to know when youve ever found the last of anything.

  • Plus, this timeline also only applies to dinosaurs, those reptilian land-dwelling diapsids

  • it doesn’t include all the other ancient forms of life: pterosaurs, mosasaurs, plesiosaurs,

  • fish, mammals, invertebrates, and plants!

  • So there will still be plenty of fossils for us to find, for a very long time.

  • And don’t forget, well still have the dinosaursrelatives,birds, to keep us company.

  • Thanks for watching this episode of SciShow, especially to all of our Subbable subscribers.

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It goes without saying that many of our most precious resources are also the most limited.

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Will We Ever Run Out of Dinosaurs?

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    Derek posted on 2015/05/23
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