Hmm may I ask you experts for some advices:
I have started to read 3 books about prehistoric life and dinos but when reading in this thread your knowledge is far beyond what i have at the moment, how did you guys and girls manage to learn so much about these time eras and wildlife? Working with it or studied it or just personal interest which lead you to read all books and documentaries you could find?
Advices you have for someone like me who want to learn and become a mini pro at this?
Well, in my opinion the best way is to build up your knowledge base in a graded way. If you dived straight in to an academic book, it'll be indecipherable and impenetrable, because they're jam-packed with terminology, descriptors and cladistic groups that wouldn't mean anything to you. If you read something more accessible, you'll be exposed to enough tricky terms that you'll be able to fill in the gaps and figure out what the more advanced works are saying. Here are a few avenues you can pursue for dinosaur research, with their approximate level:
-TV programmes. These vary in quality, but all tend to be very basic - accessible to anyone, rarely offering much in the way of academia. And in many cases, they'll be rife with inaccuracy. Walking With Dinosaurs, for example, was littered with errors and speculation even at the time, and at 15 years old it's been left far behind by modern palaeontology's rapid pace. Planet Dinosaur was based on sound science from what I remember. For the most part, these will just be helping you put together an image of the Mesozoic world, and developing a basic familiarity with the major dinosaur groups.
Every so often they have a piece of very useful information that's hard to find elsewhere (such as the results of the spinosaurid oxygen isotope research in Planet Dinosaur), but you should take everything
you learn on these shows with a pinch of salt until you can find a corroborating source.
-Generalist dinosaur books. Non-academic books for adults are quite few and far between, but should provide you with a proper fundamental grounding. Find a good one, re-read it a couple of times, and you'll have a good knowledge base.
I can't really offer you much in the way of recommendation. The last one I read was Paul Barrett's Dinosaurs: A Natural History, but this was in 2002, it'll be hopelessly outdated by now. Things to look for... make sure it's from the last decade at least, and ideally within the last five years. If it has a scaly Velociraptor pictured anywhere, it's a no-go.
recommend DK's Prehistoric: The Visual History Of Life On Earth to build up a general knowledge of life's entire history, and an understanding of how the different groups inter-relate. If you're looking for specific information about anything in particular, though, you're out of luck with that one.
One proviso with books. In most cases, they aren't peer-reviewed, and will contain the viewpoint of just one or two experts. As Doom mentioned earlier, every palaeontologist and enthusiast has a different viewpoint, and will disagree on a wide range of subjects (you might even disagree with them yourself as you learn more). Some researchers have highly controversial views that they'll try to convey as proven fact. If there are multiple authors who worked on the book, it should prove more reliable.
Wikipedia might sound like a cop-out, but the palaeontology sections are brilliantly
curated. It's generally very reliable, and absolutely jam-packed with good information, written at a level that you're probably already ready for (I'm listing these avenues as kind of a tiered approach, if you haven't noticed yet). If a question suddenly pops into your mind - "What was Tyrannosaurus' top speed?" "Which animals occupied X ecosystem at Y time?" "Was Michael Crichton right about Z?" - fire up Google and open the relevant Wikipedia page. You'll often find yourself falling down a rabbit hole of time-annihilating information sponging. Similarly, if you hear some tidbit on TV or in a newspaper that piques your interest, fact-check it in Wikipedia to verify its accuracy.
If you come across a word that you're not familiar with (there may be a lot of them on Wikipedia), look it up on Google. This will set you up nicely for more advanced research in the future.
Google's also great for bring up news articles in National Geographic or similar, and the image search is useful if you just have
to see a particular fossil for any reason.
Basically... be curious
. There's a virtually bottomless well of information at the end of your ethernet cable, and easily found. Wikipedia's usually a better source than most books, because it's curated by multiple authors. Where there's a difference of opinion, both perspectives will usually be detailed.
If you have any question about dinosaur evolutionary relationships, there's just one stop you need to make: thescelosaurus.com
. Its cladogram
is the best I've ever seen, and lists every remotely viable dinosaur genus. There's a full table for understanding the subdivisions of geological time here
. Most of the information here is compiled from ultimate dinosaur tome™ The Dinosauria, a monstrously comprehensive 700-page peer-reviewed academic work which is virtually impenetrable to pretty much everyone.
I do strongly recommend sitting down and taking a flick through Thescelosaurus' clade index, it may be low-tech but I consider it an indespensable resource. You do need a familiarity with the various group names though, which is why I suggest a thorough reading of a generalist adult book first.
-Looking out the window. You can understand a lot about extinct animals by studying living animals which either are related, or occupy a similar ecological niche and body plan. If every palaeontologist did this properly, there question of Tyrannosaurus being an exclusive scavenger would never have been seriously entertained - no living terrestrial vertebrate does it, and even among birds, it's just the vulture, a creature which can travel hundreds of miles with negligible energy expenditure. Anyway, the more you study today's animals, the more you'll understand. Population densities, thermoregulation, energetics, behavioural patterns... a vast amount of it can be transposed to extinct fauna.
Also, if you put a bird feeder in your back garden, you'll have a tiny, highly specialised and successful dinosaur visiting you every day.
-Academic books. If it's written by an active palaeontologist then it's likely to be at this level. Typically, they'll be a tough read, and you'll need quite a broad internal dictionary of technical terms to get through it. But if you build up to it, reading at this level is very attainable. Recent examples I've read and can recommend:
Gregory S Paul's Dinosaurs: A Field Guide. As Doom pointed out, Paul isn't a qualified palaeontologist, and some of his views I strongly disagree with. But this book is extraordinarily comprehensive, with in-depth information about dinosaur biology and ecology, followed by the bulk of the book containing basic information about every viable dinosaur genus (or those he considers viable, I should say). The skeletal diagrams are peerless, and show which parts of the skeleton have been discovered; these diagrams are used for most major species. Even if the early part of the book is impenetrable to you, you might want to pick it up anyway, just for the sake of leafing through the diagrams.
Mark Witton's Pterosaurs: Natural History, Evolution, Anatomy. Alright, this one's not actually about dinosaurs, but it's always helpful to know more about the ecosystems they inhabited; pterosaurs were an important part of that, and occupied niches that remain vacant to this day. I won't say the book brings them to life, it's very stuffily written, but you couldn't ask for anything more comprehensive. More importantly to this topic, this is one of the few academic books which actually explains
a lot of its terminology, making it unusually accessible, and a handy stepping-stone for getting into other works.
Matthew P Martyniuk's Field Guide To Mesozoic Birds And Other Winged Dinosaurs. This is quite a short book, and reasonably accessible. It actually focuses more on what most of us would call dinosaurs rather than birds, starting with the most basal example of vaned feathers (and wings) in the oviraptorids. He uses some very unusual cladistics (ever heard of a deinodontid?), but what particularly stands the book apart is that the bulk of it is comprised of illustrations and general information for every relevant species... and the dinosaurs will be considerably birdier than you're accustomed to. Which is not
The Dinosauria, which I mentioned earlier, is generally considered the ultimate resource for dinosaur information, but it's at such a high level (and unintuitively presented) that graduates struggle to grapple with it. It's at a level where I can just about understand it, but it's not the kind of thing you can just sit and read.
And one more thing - if you have a question, post it on here. I'm happy to help, and I'd imagine a few other people will be too.
Anyway, that's my advice. Personally, I've been very interested in prehistoric life, evolution and ecology, and particularly dinosaurs, pretty much all my life. I've had a great deal of free time to just sponge up information wherever I can find it, and I've listed some of my favourite sources. At one point I'd intended to study Palaeobiology & Evolution at Portsmouth University when my health picked up, but that's not really on the cards now.