Teach the Earth > Paleontology > Teaching Activities > Paleobiology Database Activity for Historical Geology

Paleobiology Database Activity for Historical Geology

Heather Wall
Syracuse University
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This activity was selected for the On the Cutting Edge Reviewed Teaching Collection

This activity has received positive reviews in a peer review process involving five review categories. The five categories included in the process are

  • Scientific Accuracy
  • Alignment of Learning Goals, Activities, and Assessments
  • Pedagogic Effectiveness
  • Robustness (usability and dependability of all components)
  • Completeness of the ActivitySheet web page

For more information about the peer review process itself, please see http://serc.carleton.edu/NAGTWorkshops/review.html.

This activity has benefited from input from faculty educators beyond the author through a review and suggestion process. This review took place as a part of a faculty professional development workshop where groups of faculty reviewed each others' activities and offered feedback and ideas for improvements. To learn more about the process On the Cutting Edge uses for activity review, see http://serc.carleton.edu/NAGTWorkshops/review.html.

This page first made public: Jul 31, 2009


This laboratory exercise uses the Paleobiology Database to examine the relationships between continental position, sea-level and distribution of life through time.

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introductory historical geology course for both majors and non-majors

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

How the activity is situated in the course

near end of course


Content/concepts goals for this activity

Investigate the relationship between sea-level change and fossil distributions in deep time.

Explore changes in biodiversity through time in different groups of animals.

Investigate the relationship between tectonics and faunal migration

Identification of potential biases in the fossil record

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

Diversity curve interpretation.
Synthesis of geographic and faunal data.

Other skills goals for this activity

Graphing in Excel.
Map and graph interpretation.
Downloading and using online data.

Description of the activity/assignment

Students download diversity data from the PBDB for Veneridae and Hippuritoida bivalves and plot diversity curves in Excel to illustrate the rapid diversification of these bivalves and the timing of extinction of Hippuritoida. This portion of the lab reinforces concepts discussed in class such as origination and extinction. Students use the mapping software contained in the PBDB to plot distributions of bivalves for the Devonian, Cretaceous and Pleistocene and consider their relationship to changes in sea-level.
Animal migration is illustrated using ungulate and horse fossil distributions. For example, students create maps that plot the location of horse fossils in the Oligocene, Middle Miocene, Late Miocene, Pliocene, and Pleistocene. By doing so, students are able to constrain the timing of the formation of the Panama land bridge. This exercise reinforces the importance of the relationship between continental configuration and animal migration over geologic time scales.

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