The Future of Dinosaurs

After numerous substantial delays, my next popular science book is out now with Hodder. Called by the slightly cryptic title of ‘The Future of Dinosaurs’ the subtitle rather better explains what it’s really about ‘What we don’t know, what we can, and what we’ll never know’. Yes, this is all about the gaps in our knowledge and trying to spot some things that we probably can solve in the future with further application of our new techniques and new finds, but also look for areas which might essentially be unsolvable.

So this is a bit of futurism and crystal ball gazing, but hopefully something that’s interesting and based on a real understanding of current palaeontology. It’s not all just guesswork and gaps though, clearly to set the scene of what we *don’t* know, I have to start with what we do. What’s the state of play for various different aspects of dinosaur biology (there’s chapters on origins, physiology, appearance, behaviour, extinction and more) and what is certain or uncertain.

From there, it’s other what we don’t know. To give an example, we have recently started to piece together the colours and patterns of some dinosaurs which is something that I think many researchers thought would be effectively impossible. Its potential is enormous for understanding dinosaur biology, but it’s also something that we’ve clearly not yet exploited. Working out the (rough) colour of one black, white and orange Anchiornis is great, but we don’t know if that individual was an exceptional animal – maybe it was leucistic or melanistic and others were less black or less white in places, maybe it was a male in breeding plumage and the females were a different colour, maybe they went white in winter, maybe they were different colours in different regions or this changed over time? All of these are possible, perhaps even likely, and with the huge numbers of well-preserved specimens that have been discovered already and the likelihood of even more being found in the future, then this is something that I think we will inevitably begin to tackle in the coming years (OK, maybe decades). It really should be possible and while it would take a ton of time and research effort, there’s no obvious barrier to eventually being able to work this out and is something we will build on and understand better soon.

On the other hand, there are things we’ll perhaps never know about their feathers and colours. We can only work out some aspects of colour and patterns and things that rely on e.g. the orientation of the melanosomes that we use to work out colour are almost always going to be disrupted and other pigments for whatever reason don’t leave any kind of trace in the fossil record and can never be detected. It is also going to be nearly impossible to work out what displays they might have done, how they might have paired up or had different mating systems and so on, and so the colours will only get us so far.

While lots of people have talked at various times about where various branches of science are going next and what discoveries remain to be made, I don’t think there’s ever been a book like this trying to tackle lots of different aspects of our understanding (or lack thereof) and what shape our knowledge of dinosaurs might look like in the future. How successful I am, either in predicting what’s going to happen, or in suggesting why it might be the case, or for that matter in interesting my audience of course remains to be seen, but the book is out there now so let’s see.

If you do want to buy it, it’s available now as a physical book and ebook in the UK at least, and there is an audiobook version coming soon. This is also going to be released in North America soon through Princeton University Press under a different title (and different cover) as ‘How Fast did T. rex Run?’ but the content is identical.

4 Responses to “The Future of Dinosaurs”

  1. 1 misterjeff 25/03/2022 at 10:53 am

    Looking forward to this. In the Netherlands I can only order the ebook or audiobook at the minute, so I went with the book depository. Once the hardback pops up over here, I’ll be sure to recommend it 🙂

    • 2 Kilian Hekhuis 06/04/2022 at 1:14 pm

      @misterjeff A couple of days after you posted this I ordered the hardback from Amazon UK, and received it within a week. So it’s definitely possible to own a copy here!

      • 3 misterjeff 06/04/2022 at 2:10 pm

        Thanks Kilian, my copy is currently somewhere between the Book Depository and my house.
        Amazon would probably have been quicker!

  2. 4 Mike Taylor 07/04/2022 at 11:08 am

    Congratulations, Dave!

    (And commiserations on the US title, which I am sure you had no hand in!)

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