The fossil record provides one of the strongest tests of the hypothesis that diversity within local communities is constrained over geological timescales. Constraints to diversity are particularly controversial in modern terrestrial ecosystems, yet long-term patterns are poorly understood. Here we document patterns of local richness in Phanerozoic terrestrial tetrapods using a global data set comprising 145,332 taxon occurrences from 27,531 collections. We show that the local richness of non-flying terrestrial tetrapods has risen asymptotically since their initial colonization of land, increasing at most threefold over the last 300 million years. Statistical comparisons support phase-shift models, with most increases in local richness occurring: (1) during the colonization of land by vertebrates, concluding by the late Carboniferous; and (2) across the Cretaceous/Paleogene boundary. Individual groups, such as mammals, lepidosaurs and dinosaurs also experienced early increases followed by periods of stasis often lasting tens of millions of years. Mammal local richness abruptly tripled across the Cretaceous/Paleogene boundary, but did not increase over the next 66 million years. These patterns are consistent with the hypothesis that diversity is constrained at the local-community scale.