Behemoth Animals May Follow Same Extinction Patterns

October 28, 1996

Denver, Colo. -- Dinosaurs and elephants may have had similar patterns of decline in their long slide to extinction, according to a Penn State paleontologist.

"If we look at the last five million years before extinction for both dinosaurs and proboscideans, we find a surprisingly similar pattern of extinction," says Dr. Roger J. Cuffey, professor of geosciences.

The Proboscideans -- mammoths, mastodons, stegodons and elephants -- are not quite extinct, but with only two species left, they are far reduced from their heyday. The African and Indian elephants are the remnant of what, at its height during the late Miocene, was a group of some 30 types of animals roaming the Earth.

"Interestingly, at their height, dinosaurs also have a diversity of about 30 species," Cuffey says.

Cuffey and Joey H. Eichelberger, a Penn State undergraduate, compared the diversity of dinosaurs and proboscideans over the last 5 million years of their existence in a poster presentation today (Oct. 30) at the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America in Denver.

"Most people believe that we understand the extinction of the dinosaurs now that we have proof of a large meteor event at the time of their final demise," says Cuffey. "The KT meteor was only the final death blow for the dinosaurs, they had been declining in diversity and number for at least 5 million years."

For the proboscideans, the final death blow will probably be by the hand of humans, but these elephant-like animals also suffered a gradual decline in species number over the past 5 million years and only now approach extinction.

Although dinosaurs and proboscideans ruled at different times, placing both decline curves on the same graph show that in their individual 5 million year periods, these giant beasts shared a very similar pattern of decline.

"No one has ever put both graphs on the same chart before," says Cuffey. "Because the patterns appear to be similar, perhaps we can learn something about the decline of the dinosaurs from the more recent decline of the elephants."

Cuffey notes that both groups of animals were the largest creatures of their times and probably had few natural enemies. The cause of their demise was probably not one single element, but a complex mix of factors that effected food supply and habitats. Because the proboscidean decline is more recent, there is greater possibility of uncovering the complex set of events that could bring gigantic animals from glory to extinction.


EDITORS: Dr. Cuffey may be reached at 814-865-1293 or

Penn State

Related Dinosaurs Articles from Brightsurf:

Ireland's only dinosaurs discovered in antrim
The only dinosaur bones ever found on the island of Ireland have been formally confirmed for the first time by a team of experts from the University of Portsmouth and Queen's University Belfast, led by Dr Mike Simms, a curator and palaeontologist at National Museums NI.

Baby dinosaurs were 'little adults'
Paleontologists at the University of Bonn (Germany) have described for the first time an almost complete skeleton of a juvenile Plateosaurus and discovered that it looked very similar to its parents even at a young age.

Bat-winged dinosaurs that could glide
Despite having bat-like wings, two small dinosaurs, Yi and Ambopteryx, struggled to fly, only managing to glide clumsily between the trees where they lived, according to a new study led by an international team of researchers, including McGill University Professor Hans Larsson.

Some dinosaurs could fly before they were birds
New research using the most comprehensive study of feathered dinosaurs and early birds has revised the evolutionary relationships of dinosaurs at the origin of birds.

Tracking Australia's gigantic carnivorous dinosaurs
North America had the T. rex, South America had the Giganotosaurus and Africa the Spinosaurus - now evidence shows Australia had gigantic predatory dinosaurs.

Ancient crocodiles walked on two legs like dinosaurs
An international research team has been stunned to discover that some species of ancient crocodiles walked on their two hind legs like dinosaurs and measured over three metres in length.

Finding a genus home for Alaska's dinosaurs
A re-analysis of dinosaur skulls from northern Alaska suggests they belong to a genus Edmontosaurus, and not to the genus recently proposed by scientists in 2015.

Can we really tell male and female dinosaurs apart?
Scientists worldwide have long debated our ability to identify male and female dinosaurs.

In death of dinosaurs, it was all about the asteroid -- not volcanoes
Volcanic activity did not play a direct role in the mass extinction event that killed the dinosaurs, according to an international, Yale-led team of researchers.

Discriminating diets of meat-eating dinosaurs
A big problem with dinosaurs is that there seem to be too many meat-eaters.

Read More: Dinosaurs News and Dinosaurs Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to