Introduction to the Trilobites: Morphology, Macroevolution and More

Michelle Casey, University of Kansas, mcasey@ku.edu

Bruce Lieberman, University of Kansas, blieber@ku.edu

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This activity was selected for the On the Cutting Edge Exemplary Teaching Collection

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This page first made public: Mar 21, 2014

Summary

The learning goals for this lab are the following: 1) to familiarize students with the anatomy and terminology relating to trilobites; 2) to give students experience identifying morphologic structures on real fossil specimens, not just diagrammatic representations; 3) to highlight major events or trends in the evolutionary history and ecology of the Trilobita; and 4) to expose students to the study of macroevolution in the fossil record using trilobites as a case study. This lab will be particularly helpful to those institutions that lack a large teaching collection by providing color photographs of museum specimens.

Context

Audience

This lab is intended for an upper level paleontology course containing sophomores and juniors who have already taken historical geology or its equivalent.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

Students may find previous exposure to phylogenetic methods and terminology helpful in completing this laboratory exercise. Familiarity with the geologic time scale is also important.

How the activity is situated in the course

This laboratory is a stand-alone exercise. It could be completed in class or in a 2-3 hour laboratory section.

Goals

Content/concepts goals for this activity

The learning goals for this lab are the following: 1) to familiarize students with the anatomy and terminology relating to trilobites; 2) to give students experience identifying morphologic structures on real fossil specimens, not just diagrammatic representations; 3) to highlight major events or trends in the evolutionary history and ecology of the Trilobita; and 4) to expose students to the study of macroevolution in the fossil record using trilobites as a case study.

This laboratory exercise mixes the traditional taxon approach and the conceptual framework approach to teaching paleontology by covering information on the anatomy and ecology of the trilobites while also delving into macroevolutionary concepts. This lab introduces the basic anatomy and ecology of the Trilobita and then requires the students to apply that new knowledge immediately to complete an exercise on macroevolution. This should reinforce the anatomy and vocabulary multiple times in the same lab to increase retention and demonstrate to students why understanding anatomy is important to tackling modern problems in paleontology. This lab does not cover each of the trilobite orders in detail and places emphasis on understanding ecology and evolutionary concepts over memorization of groups.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

Padian (2010) suggests that teaching macroevolution is a way to defeat creationist arguments that typically only refute microevoltuion. In particular, Padian (2010) suggests increasing the coverage of macroevoltuionary concepts at the college level where he has demonstrated it is currently lacking in upper level biology, evolution, and paleontology textbooks (Padian, 2008). By combining a discussion of macroevolutionary theory with the latest published research on trilobite pattern and process, this lab aims to do just that.

Other skills goals for this activity

Description and Teaching Materials

Laboratory Assignment : Introduction to the Trilobites Lab (Acrobat (PDF) 1.9MB Jul3 14)

Laboratory Key: Introduction to the Trilobites Key (Acrobat (PDF) 1.9MB Jul3 14)

Assessment

The assessment for this lab ranges from fill-in-the-blanks, matching exercises, short answer questions, and longer essay questions where students are encouraged to diagram their answers using hypothetical phylogenetic trees.

References and Resources

Padian, K. (2008). Trickle-down evolution: an approach to getting major evolutionary adaptive changes into textbooks and curricula. Integrative and Comparative Biology, 48(2), 175-188.

Padian, K. (2010). How to Win the Evolution War: Teach Macroevolution! Evolution: Education and Outreach, 3(2), 206-214.

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