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An Illustrated Guide to Dinosaur Feeding Biology

7 November 2023

As titans in Earth’s geological history, dinosaurs will undoubtedly always enrapture scientists and amateur enthusiasts alike. Whilst An Illustrated Guide to Dinosaur Feeding Biology is a technical read, it is still accessible to those willing to take a bite into the subject. Evolutionary anatomist, Ali Nabavizadeh, and palaeontologist, David Weishampel, investigate over a century of research on bone, joint, and tooth adaptations in the skulls of herbivorous, carnivorous, and omnivorous dinosaurs. The authors uncover the specialisms that helped dinosaurs thrive throughout the Late Triassic to end Cretaceous (229 to 66 million years ago). 

Beginning with a history of research into the age of the dinosaurs, the authors touch on debates between prominent researchers on taxonomy that have occurred since the designation of Dinosauria by Richard Owen in 1842, as well as early studies on dinosaur feeding. For those who are unfamiliar with dinosaur anatomy, some terminology would require looking up, until the illustrations begin a few chapters later. 

Almost 250 illustrations demonstrate the complex musculature that supported the mighty jaws and knife-life teeth exemplified in Hollywood dramatisations, as well as the beaks and grinding actions of their more placid plant-eating contemporaries. The authors discuss the importance of researching functional morphology and its significance in dinosaur diversification, before delving into the 2D and 3D techniques used by palaeontologists to study osteology, dentition, soft tissue reconstruction, and biomechanics. The authors then apply key engineering principles to the realm of vertebrate skulls before the deep dive begins. 

Extensive lists of terminology are provided, but, even as a palaeontologist (albeit not a vertebrate one), having to frequently refer to previous chapters to check meanings was taxing; additional annotated illustrations may have been useful early on. However, major dinosaur clades were vividly brought to life where photographs of fossils were placed next to dinosaur reconstructions. Readers can use the diagrams to visualise specialised components of feeding function according to dietary preferences, as well as directional arrows to indicate major stresses and strains on the skull based on finite element analyses. This also translates to key characteristics observed in dinosaurs’ living descendants – birds. 

Finally, we learn how dinosaurian evolutionary patterns shaped and were shaped by the changing ecosystems throughout the Mesozoic, until their ultimate extinction. Whilst familiarity with vertebrate palaeontology would be an advantage when reading this book, it is a comprehensive and fascinating insight for all into the lives of these enigmatic creatures. 

Reviewed by Hannah Bird 



BY: Ali Nabavizadeh and David Weishampel (2023). Johns Hopkins University Press. 368 pp. (hbk) 

ISBN: 9781421413532 

PRICE: £50.00 www.press.jhu.edu