Interpreting Fossil Assemblages
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This page first made public: Jun 4, 2009
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- Activity Description/Assignment: Interpretation of Fossil Assemblages (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 115kB Aug2 09)
- Instructor information for Interpreting Fossil Assemblages: I really want them to be able to recognize the limitations of the fossil record as well as the richness of information available from fossils. To this end I try to highlight the variability in the fossil record. You can choose any type of sample you like, but I like to use a range (some well preserved, some poorly preserved, some high diversity, some low diversity, some high energy, some low energy, some straightforward, some more tricky). Although I have abundant Ordovician and Devonian samples, I would ideally like to use samples from a range of time intervals. Students at the end of a paleontology course should be able to estimate the relative age of a fossiliferous sample, and then support it in the literature.
I provided 6 samples and had them complete descriptions for any 5 they liked because there were only 5 students the last time I ran this exercise. You can provide more to accommodate more students or to make it more comprehensive, but I found a lot of time is spent pouring over the treatise to identify the taxa, so you might want to make this a more than one lab period exercise. They end up spending a lot of time outside of lab (which I think is fine for a final lab assignment), but know that they need access to samples.
For the final assessment where they are called upon to defend their interpretation against my questions such as:
- How did you decide what species-what characters?
- How do you know it is shallow, deep, etc. ?
- What does your diversity data tell you?
- How would you change your interpretations if the surrounding lithology were different?