Field Lab - Ecosystem and Paleoenvironment analysis

Emma Rainforth
,
Ramapo College of New Jersey
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Summary

Students collect from two Devonian field sites. The goal is to determine the depositional environment and whether these are life or death assemblages.

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Context

Audience

  • Undergraduate (300-level) required course in paleontology for environmental science majors and elective for biology majors.The course is oriented towards 'environmental and ecosystem change'.
  • Students will have already had 200-level ecology (which has 100-level biology as a prereq). 100-level geology is recommended but not required (the environmental science majors are likely to have taken geology already; biology majors will not).

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

Basic sedimentary rock identification; identification of the major fossil taxa; life vs death assemblages, taphonomy/biostratinomy

How the activity is situated in the course

The lab is 2/3 of the way through the course; students have already surveyed the major fossil groups. It is a more advanced version of an earlier field lab (on stromatolites), and the lab final exam follows the format of this lab (with specimens rather than the field part of the lab!)

Goals

Content/concepts goals for this activity

  • Students will identify lithologies, sedimentary structures and fossils, in order to reconstruct the physical environments and ecosystems represented at this sites.
  • Students will analyze the assemblages in order to ascertain whether they are life or death assemblages

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

Students will collect and interpret data (lithologies, fossils)

Other skills goals for this activity

  • Students will work collaboratively throughout the field trip.
    • Students who have not had an introductory geology class may observe features but be unable to identify or interpret them; students who have had introductory geology will act as teachers to the other students in the class.
  • Students will organize their field observations and site interpretations into a formal written report.
  • Students will gain practice making detailed field observations, and using prior knowledge and first principles to interpret their observations.

Description of the activity/assignment

Students collect from two Devonian field sites. Each student works on their own collections; each genus is identified (and detailed sketches made), preservation noted, relative abundance reported; together with lithological information students are able to ascertain the mode of life of the fossils, and ascertain the depositional environment and whether these are life or death assemblages. The lab addresses the two 'content goals' of the course: assessing mode of life of an organism and determining the paleoenvironmental context.

Determining whether students have met the goals

Students submit a written report. A rubric is used (and is provided to students along with the report instructions so that they know how to organize their report).

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