Counting Critters: Using the Paleobiology Database to track fossil diversity through geologic time

Rowan Lockwood
,
The College of William and Mary
Author Profile

Summary

Students learn how to use the Paleobiology Database (PBDB) to develop a diversity curve showing changes in global biodiversity through time. They then use this curve to explore major events in the history of life, including the Cambrian Explosion and end-Permian extinction. As an optional supplement, students can explore the effects of sampling and preservation on diversity curves.

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Context

Audience

To be used in an introductory or intermediate undergraduate course, including (but not limited to) physical geology, historical geology, paleontology, etc.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

Student is able to:
- Define Linnaean taxonomy terms: family, genus (Part 1)
- Define the terms "linear" and "exponential" (Part 1)
- Understand that organisms (plants and animals) didn't invade land (terrestrial ecosystems) until after the Cambrian (Part 1)
- Think about two time intervals that have been particularly well sampled (e.g., intervals with population organisms like dinosaurs, intervals with major extinctions)(Part 2)
- Think about two groups of organisms that are likely to have a well-preserved fossil record (e.g., organisms with bones or shells)(Part 2)
- Define the term "taphonomy" (Part 2)
- Use Microsoft Word to fill out answers in document (all parts)
- Interpret basic graph features (all parts)

How the activity is situated in the course

Presented during unit focusing on fossil diversity and major events in the history of life (e.g., Cambrian Explosion, Permo-Triassic mass extinction).

Goals

Content/concepts goals for this activity

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

Students will be able to:
▪ Construct a diversity curve using data and tools from PBDB Navigator (Part 1)
▪ Interpret graphical representations of diversity curves to identify possible increases and decreases in diversity (Part 1)
▪ Identify a major origination (Cambrian Explosion) graphically and use internet sources to research its possible causes (Part 1)
▪ Identify a major extinction (end-Permian Extinction) graphically and use internet sources to research a possible cause.
▪ Assess the effects of sampling and preservation on quantifying diversity (Part 2)
▪ Assess the extent to which diversity patterns are affected by the inclusion of singleton taxa (Part 2)
▪ Determine the extent to which Pull of the Recent is influencing diversity patterns (Part 2)

Other skills goals for this activity

Description of the activity/assignment

In this activity, students learn how to use the Paleobiology Database to develop a diversity curve showing changes in global biodiversity through time. They then use this curve to explore major events in the history of life, including the Cambrian Explosion and end-Permian mass extinction.

This activity is designed to be flexible and can be used as a lecture, lab, or homework activity. It is divided into two parts and can be modified by picking and choosing which parts (and which questions within parts) to include. The duration of the activity ranges from 10 minutes to three hours, depending on which parts are assigned.

Students can work as individuals or in pairs and class size can range from a small seminar (< 10 students) to a large lecture (> 100), as long as sufficient computer facilities are available.

Each student or student pair will need access to a laptop or desktop computer connected to the internet, running both Microsoft Word and an internet browser.

Determining whether students have met the goals

Formative assessment

Can be accomplished in lecture or lab by observing student progress and trouble-shooting challenges. Can also doublecheck that the major tasks (i.e., constructing correct diversity curve, circling increases in diversity, starring decreases in diversity, researching the Cambrian Explosion, research the end-Permian extinction) are accomplished in a timely manner and are accurate.

Summative assessment
Key summative assessment points include: the graph of diversity, identifying increases and decreases on this graph, describing two possible drivers of the Cambrian Explosion, and describing one possible cause of the end-Permian extinction. Instructors can use the answer key provided to assess students' understanding of the main concepts. Summative assessment can also be included as midterm and final exam questions focusing on the key summative assessment points listed above.

More information about assessment tools and techniques.

Download teaching materials and tips

Other Materials

Supporting references/URLs

How to interpret graphs
http://www.bbc.co.uk/bitesize/standard/maths_i/relationships/interpreting_graphs/revision/1/
http://www.bbc.co.uk/skillswise/factsheet/ma37grap-l1-f-extracting-and-interpreting-data-from-line-graphs
http://serc.carleton.edu/mathyouneed/graphing/index.html
https://www.khanacademy.org/math/ab-sixth-grade-math/al-statistics-probability/al-data/v/u08-l1-t2-we2-reading-line-graphs

What is a diversity curve?
http://www.els.net/WileyCDA/ElsArticle/refId-a0001636.html
http://simpson-carl.github.io/papers/2010%20Simpson.pdf
http://serc.carleton.edu/NAGTWorkshops/paleo/activities/33101.html
http://www.indiana.edu/~g563/Handouts/Foote%20and%20Miller,%20Calculating%20Diversity%20Curves.pdf

Major events in the history of life
http://www.bbc.co.uk/nature/history_of_the_earth
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_the_evolutionary_history_of_life
http://evolution.berkeley.edu/evolibrary/article/evo_13

Cambrian Explosion
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cambrian_explosion
http://www.evolution.berkeley.edu/evosite/evo101/VIIB1cCambrian.shtml
http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/evolution/library/03/4/l_034_02.html
http://www.bbc.co.uk/science/earth/earth_timeline/cambrian_explosion

End-Permian extinction event
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Permian%E2%80%93Triassic_extinction_event#Microbes
http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/evolution/library/03/2/l_032_02.html

How to develop hypotheses
https://explorable.com/how-to-write-a-hypothesis
http://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/project_hypothesis.shtml#keyinfo
http://www.sciencebuddies.org/blog/2010/02/a-strong-hypothesis.php

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