Dinosaur Task Group

Leader, co-leader and group members

Leader, Michael Benton

        University of Bristol


Co-leader, Xu Xing

                  Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences

Co-leader, Mark A. Norell

        American Museum of Natural History

Co-leader, Martin Lockley

        University of Colorado Denver

Co-leader, Philip Currie

        University of Alberta

Co-leader, Xing Lida

        China University of Geosciences, Beijing


Member, Scott Persons

         College of Charleston

Member, Donghao Wang

         China University of Geosciences, Beijing

Member, Qingqing Liang

         China University of Geosciences, Beijing





Group Introduction

1. Group missions

1)      participating construction of DDE cyberinfrastructure (such as the DDE knowledge graph);

2)      designing the metadata of the subdiscipline database;

3)      supervising the growth and availability of the data based on FAIR principles;

4)      organizing meetings focus on data driven research in their fields.

Dinosaurs are one of the most well-known groups in paleontology, occupying the dominant niche of Mesozoic land systems, which is of great significance to the study of life evolution. The DDE Dinosaur Group database is aimed at scientific research, providing a platform for dinosaur research and guiding dinosaur research from traditional taxonomy to ecology and evolution.

The main scientific issues involved included the diversity of dinosaur taxa and the relevance of environmental changes (ecological, geographical and climatic), such as radiation and extinction of dinosaurs. The relation between changes in dinosaur morphology and ecology and environmental changes, such as dinosaur size change and the origin of birds. These provide a focus for some key questions in macroevolution: (1) what is the balance of external environment (e.g. climate, atmosphere, sea-level, continental configuration) versus biological drivers (e.g. innovation, expanding into new ecospace, competition) in shaping major clades; (2) what is the speciation dynamics of Dinosauria through time; early burst, many bursts, sudden or gradual decline; (3) how do species richness, morphological diversity (disparity) and ecological diversity (function) relate to each other?

The database is based on species level, specimen numbers, measurements, photographs, and 3D models of dinosaurs with complete skeletons. Technical problems to be solved are as follows: 1. Automatic processing of CT or synchrotron radiation data (development of artificial intelligence technology); 2. Automatic separation of skeleton and background of two-dimensional images; 3. Link of different database fields; 4. Links to external databases.

At the same time, the Dinosaur Group will focus on science popularization, establishing a comprehensive bilingual dinosaur database, providing 3D dinosaur reconstructions and detailed introduction not so professional, and promoting DDE to the public. In addition, to take advantage of the beloved figure of dinosaurs, a series of scientific, artistic and interesting derivative products will be developed to improve the influence of DDE in society.


2. Three-year goals (2020-2022)

In recent years, with the rapid increase of dinosaurology data and the progress of statistical analysis, many kinds of dinosaurology-related databases have emerged, but there is no comprehensive dinosaur database to give us the best of both worlds: scientific research and science popularization. With the help of the big science project of Deep Digital Earth (DDE), we have built such a database for promoting research on the evolution of life in Deep time and improving public's understanding of DDE.

The new dinosaur database can be used to integrate dinosaur classification data, fossil production data, geographic information, biostratigraphic data and literature (copies of classic key papers), in the hope of building a digital scientific research platform based on the internet and database technology, with the ultimate goal of collecting and analyzing dinosaur data. The core of the data structure is fossil records, based on which visualization systems of fossil excavation site, palaeogeography, palaeoecology, biodiversity and phylogeny will be developed to meet the requirements of science popularization, scientific research and application. This will be an international scientific research platform for scientists and related personnel to carry out qualitative and quantitative analysis.

Since the dinosaur database is facing many copyright issues related to museums and journal publishers, the first three-year goal of this project is to seek the easiest breakthrough and the most attractive subject, and eventually generating a prototype with traditional + 3D information.


(1) 2020 Goals:

1. Build a 3 D model from scanning data of Sinosaurus triassicus for online virtual scenes.

2. Explore how to gain support from museums around the world to scan dinosaur skeletons they collected.

3. Propose a plan for dinosaurology experiment and exhibition area of DDE International Center of Excellence in Kunshan. The area will be used to show the evolution of dinosaurs with more interaction-friendly setting for visitors, making it a new symbol of the Kunshan region.

(2) 2021 Goals:

1. Scan dinosaurs collected by World Dinosaur Valley Museum in Lufeng, Yunnan Province, and build their 3D models.

2. Scan holotype specimens of Chinese dinosaur tracks systematically.

3. Conduct feasibility research on the database of Chinese dinosaurs, constructed based on the species name, the specimen number, the measurement data, the fossil photographs, and make a prototype.

(3) 2022 Goals:

After reviewing works in 2021, we will carry on 1-2 subjects above to build a new dinosaur database prototype with traditional + 3D information.




Project Description

1. Brief description

The taxonomic diversity and morphological diversity of dinosaurs throughout the Mesozoic era were obviously correlated with changes in ecology, geography, climate and other factors, among which the most discussed are the initial great radiation and the eventual mass extinction of dinosaurs, as well as the achievement of huge size by some lineages of dinosaurs and the origin of birds. In other words, academic hotspots often focus on a certain event or a specific period of time, not the overall macro-evolution of the group, so the potential relationship between data types is easy to ignore. The development of big data and the DDE project are giving dinosaur study unprecedented opportunities to automatically process CT and synchrotron radiation data by AI, improve automatic separation of skeleton and the background in 2D images, solve all kinds of data linking problems, and develop new data classification and analysis technology for more efficient research. We propose a comprehensive bilingual dinosaur database and 3D reconstructions of dinosaurs at the level of genus. Combining other paleontological and paleoecological data of the Mesozoic era, evolutionary patterns of dinosaurs and their relationship with the environment will be presented.

At the same time, science popularization in the field of dinosaurs provides an opportunity to take such cutting-edge work quickly to the public, and especially to children. This means that any fundamental research work we do can make immediate connections with major universities and especially natural history museums worldwide, and these provide a perfect opportunity to include aspects of their important collections, but also to spread the message more widely among scientists on the one hand, and the public on the other, who love the idea of ‘dinosaurs plus computers’.

Our plan for the first year is as follows:

1. With financial support, cooperate with 3D data companies to build a 3D model of Sinosaurus triassicus and online virtual scenes. The purpose is to go through the whole scanning-to-online scene process of a dinosaur as a template for other dinosaurs.

2. With financial support, investigate dinosaur theme exhibitions and interaction settings in Shanghai Museum of Natural Science, Chongqing Museum of Natural Science and other units. Propose a plan for dinosaurology experiment and exhibition area of DDE International Center of Excellence in Kunshan.

2. Expound on the alignment with the vision and mission of DDE

As the dominant terrestrial vertebrates in Mesozoic, dinosaurs' morphological characteristics, life habits and ecological environment, as well as the evolution law of terrestrial animal life during their 160 million years, are an important part of the life evolution history of deep earth. Only by better excavation, classifying and storing the massive dinosaur data accumulated by our predecessors can we accurately process the basic data concerning the evolution of dinosaurs, refine the phylogenetic tree of Mesozoic terrestrial life, and perfect researches of 3.8 billion-years long life evolution history.

In recent years, with the help of computer science, there has been an explosive growth in the amount of dinosaur data, and the proposed database can better present the characteristics and significance of the massive amount of historical data on dinosaurs. This is also in line with the development direction of big data and DDE, and will facilitate comprehensively teasing out and databasing related knowledge, and establishment of a dedicated dinosaur-specific platform for data collection, classification, analysis and calculation. The combination of disciplines and big data will not only greatly expand researches in dinosaurology, improve the ability to acquire new knowledge of dinosaurology, but also promote innovation in paleontology, stratigraphy and geochronology based on dinosaurology, and improve the public's understanding of DDE by science popularization.

Therefore, we are trying to build a detailed new dinosaur database, together with a more complete 3D database of holotype specimens (including dinosaur skeleton fossils, tracks and eggs), to fulfil all kinds of scientific needs. Such a resource of 3D images has major advantages: (1) the data can be made available to everyone so there is a strong democratic aspect; (2) the data can be available through the internet, and so people do not have to spend huge amounts of money to travel to museums all round the world, so this combines a strong democratic element with a strong focus on efficient use of energy by avoiding unnecessary travel; and (3) the scans reduce risk to the original specimens because researchers no longer have to handle specimens each time they want to study them, but delicate and valuable specimens can be saved, providing a strong conservation and long-term argument.

Moreover, details of science popularization will be discussed based on the new data; photographs, maps, and 3D specimen models are all accessible to children as well as professors.

3. Milestones and timeline

By December 2020, build a 3D model based on scanning data of Sinosaurus triassicus and achieve online scene.

By December 2020, propose a plan for dinosaurology experiment and exhibition area of DDE International Center of Excellence in Kunshan shall be put forward. The area will be used to show the evolution of dinosaurs with more interaction-friendly setting for visitors, making it a new symbol of Kunshan region.

By XXX, obtain agreements from 50 leading dinosaur museums around the world to acquire scan data of dinosaur holotypes as a basis for the wider resource.

4. Feasibility analysis

Michael Benton holds a Bachelor's degree from the University of Aberdeen and doctoral degree from the University of Newcastle. He is currently Professor of Vertebrate paleontology at the University of Bristol. His research interests include the evolution of ancient reptiles, the origin of dinosaurs and the extinction events. He has a large research group and current research makes use of big data applications in phylogenetics (including Bayesian analysis), macroevolution and macroecology (including Bayesian and other massively iterative computational methods) and form and function (including extensive use of CT scan data and 3D tomography of specimens).

Xu Xing received his bachelor's degree from Peking University, and received his Master's degree and doctor's degree from Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, Chinese Academy of Sciences. He is now the deputy director of Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, Chinese Academy of Sciences. His research interests include taxonomy, systematics and morphological function of dinosaurs. He is the scientist with the most named dinosaurs in China.

Mark A. Norell holds a bachelor's degree from Long Beach State University, a Master's degree from San Diego State University, and doctoral degree from Yale University. He is now a professor at the American Museum of Natural History. Major research interests include data evaluation in large cladistic sets to evaluate theropods, as well as fossil pattern estimation through phylogeny, in order to see trends in diversity and extinction.

Martin Lockley received his bachelor's degree from Queen's University Belfast, UK, and his doctoral degrees from the University of Birmingham, UK and the University of Glasgow, UK. He also teaches and serves as the curator of the Footprints Museum at the University of Colorado Denver, where his research interests are footprints fossil. He is well known for his research on dinosaur footprints in Asia, America, Europe and Africa.

Philip Currie received his bachelor's degree from the University of Toronto and his master's and doctoral degrees from McGill University. He is now professor of paleontology at the University of Alberta and curator of earth Sciences at the Royal Alberta Museum. In 1980, he became director of the Sino-Canadian dinosaur Excavation program. His research interests are theropods, which have improved the phylogenetic relationship of theropods and described many early feathered dinosaurs, providing important evidence for the scientific theory that birds are the descendants of dinosaurs.

Lida Xing received his Master's degrees in paleontology from the University of Alberta, and his doctoral degree from China University of Geosciences (Beijing). He is now an associate professor of paleontology at China University of Geosciences (Beijing). His research interests include in the archosaur track, and the relationships among track and skeleton records in Asia and North America, and Mid-Cretaceous vertebrate amber (avian/non-avian theropod) from Burma, and with emphasis on morphology, paleoecology and evolution.

Scott Persons IV received his bachelor's degree from Macalester University, his Master's degree from the University of Alberta, and his PhD from the University of Alberta. He is now an associate professor of paleontology at the College of Charleston and a curator at the Mace Brown Museum of Natural History. His research interests are biomechanics and evolution of dinosaur movement.