One of the most important questions to this day is why dinosaurs aren’t around anymore. We have plenty of information about possible reasons, but right now it’s little more than a jumbled mass of intersecting theories, ideas, and thoughts.
In an interview for Earth magazine, Erickson has said: “I’ve spent my career trying to figure out anything I can learn from bones and teeth, and what they can tell you about biology. I always try to find something in a modern animal that I can use in paleontology, like the replacement rates for teeth or how they grew from growth lines in their bones.”
There are still tons of questions researchers aren't able to figure out about dinosaurs, even with Erickson's new methods. For instance, it's impossible to determine the sex of dinosaurs just from looking at their skeletons.
There have been plenty of theories, but they just haven't panned out. Erickson himself has done plenty of studies with what a lot of people consider to be living dinosaurs – alligators – that have resulted in theories being proven incorrect. “That's one of the biggest mysteries – not knowing the sex of an animal.”
Another big question is – how did dinosaurs get so big? Even compared to larger creatures that are around now, such as elephants or giraffes, dinosaurs were huge – even the herbivores. Plenty of them would tower over humans and most other animals.
Even the largest species of animal we have today – the blue whale – only just reaches the size of some of the larger dinosaurs, and the blue whale has the benefit of being an underwater creature, something that facilitates bigger sizes.
“It's like forensic science: We are very limited by what material is in front of us. Many questions are intractable given what we have to work with.”
Erickson is still working hard to discover more about one of the most exciting species that have walked the earth, and with technology and methods always advancing, researchers are always learning more and more.
Erickson is currently the co-director of the Arctic Paleontological Research Consortium, alongside Pat Druckenmiller, a curator of Alaska's Museum of the North in Fairbanks, and they look at how dinosaurs would have survived in high latitudes.
While it was warmer millions of years ago, there was still plenty of darkness and snow. Alaskan dinosaur fossils are often found preserved in permafrost, and while the work is difficult, Erickson and Druckenmiller are getting results.