Michael Savarese

Florida Gulf Coast University
University with graduate programs, primarily masters programs


Geobiology introduces the basic principles used in the study of paleontology (study of the fossil record) and illustrates how this science is applied to problems in the geological and biological sciences (e.g., macroevolution, paleoecology, biostratigraphy, phylogeny, biogeography, and environmental science). For example, the fossil record provides: information about environmental change; an historic framework within which to understand human-induced environmental alteration; a database with which to test hypotheses about evolution; and a chronological framework for Earth history. These are among the applications the course considers. In addition, the course introduces students to the various groups of fossil organisms preserved throughout Earth history.

Course URL:
Course Size:

less than 15

Course Context:

This is an upper-division, elective course for undergraduates majoring in Environmental Studies, Marine Science, and Biology (FGCU does not have a Geology Major) that is taught once every two years. The course therefore focuses on the applications of paleontological data to problems in those disciplines.

Course Goals:

1. Acquire an overview of the various biological and geological problems to which paleontological data are applied.
2. Apply paleontological data to research questions in environmental and marine science.
3. Utilize the methods, technologies, and concepts used by geologists to interpret Earth history and to reconstruct paleoenvironments.
4. Develop a sense of historical perspective for the Earth's current environmental problems.
5. Effectively evaluate the fidelity of the fossil record for a given application of paleontological data.
6. Apply concepts and techniques in cladistics to phylogenetic analysis.
7. Critique the fossil record's value with respect to testing evolutionary hypotheses.
8. Recognize the various forms of life that have existed throughout Earth history.

How course activities and course structure help students achieve these goals:

Goals 2, 3, and 4 are assessed through the design and implementation of a semester-long research project that concerns some specific environmental or restoration science problem of local interest. That project incorporates both paleoenvironmental reconstruction and historic change, and requires that students apply the concepts and techniques they have learned within their course in sedimentology and stratigraphy course. The project is typically prepared as a class, coauthored poster and often submitted to a Southeast GSA sectional meeting.

Goals 5, 6, and 7 are assessed through the implementation of short inquiry-based exercises that are written up for grading.

Goal 1, which essentially concerns the overall context of the course, is assessed through two take home exams, a midterm and a final.

Goal 8 is achieved through informal exercises and displays that are not formally assessed.

Skills Goals

1. Improve students' knowledge of the scientific method.
2. Develop to ability to critically evaluate science.
3. Improve communication of science, both orally and in writing.
4. To work collaboratively.

How course activities and course structure help students achieve these goals:

All exercises and the semester-long research project follow the scientific format and are accomplished collaboratively. The exercises are written up as short scientific papers; the project is prepared as a poster for a science conference. Students read the primary literature throughout the course.

Attitudinal Goals

Not applicable.


Two take home exams, a midterm and final, are assigned. These address most discipline goals, particularly 1, and skill goal 3. The inquiry-based exercises have short papers associated with them that follow a science journal article format. These address discipline goals 5, 6, & 7 and skill goals 1 – 4. The research project is completed as an abstract for submission and as a poster for presentation. Discipline goals 2-4 and skill goals 1-4 are assessed.


Syllabus for Geobiology (Microsoft Word 66kB May28 09)