Biodiversity Through Time

David Goodwin

Denison University
Private four-year institution, primarily undergraduate


Biodiversity Through Time is introduction to the study of fossil invertebrates with emphasis on preservation, taphonomy, diversity trajectories through geologic time, evolutionary mechanisms, extinction, paleobiology and paleoecology. Special emphasis is placed on using fossils to interpret ancient depositional environments. Labs introduce the student to the major invertebrate phyla commonly preserved in the geologic rock record.

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Course Context:

This is an upper-level elective course. The course is cross listed with the biology department. Prerequisites for geology students include "Physical Geology" and "Historical Geology." The prerequisites for biology students include "Introductory Biology" and "Evolution and Ecology." The course meets three times a week and has a required three-hour lab.

Course Goals:

Students should be able to use fossils to reconstruct ancient depositional environments.

Students should be able to integrate taphonomic data into their interpretations of fossil assemblages.

Students should be able to use phylogenetic information to formulate evolutionary hypotheses.

Students should integrate paleontological and evolutionary developmental biology concepts and theories.

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

This is predominantly a lecture course. However, lectures are focused on themes related to preassigned readings from primary literature. Thus, following introductory remarks, class meetings are structured as seminars. Labs are focused on individual taxonomic groups (mollusks, arthropods, lophophotates, etc.). External readings are also incorporated into the course. Students are asked to read three books in addition to assigned readings and the textbook. These books focus on 1) Life in the Precambrian; 2) Evolutionary Developmental Biology, and 3) Extinction.

Skills Goals

Critically reading primary and popular science literature.

Preparing and presenting thematic posters.

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

Students are expected to read primary and popular science literature. In each case, students are introduced to relevant concepts before reading the assignment. Following their readings we hold groups discussions of topics and concepts presented in the assigned material. In some cases, individual students are asked to present a short synopsis of the reading to the class. These presentations are not explicitly graded.

Poster topics are assigned at the beginning of the semester. The assignment begins with a general outline of required content (geologic ranges, phylogenetic relationships, etc.). Subsequent assignment components focus on detained requirements (paleoecology, taphonomy, case studies, etc.). Students are also give explicit instructions on designing and producing effective poster presentations. Finally, students hold a paleo-symposium. Students are evaluated on the poster and on the quality of their oral explanations.


Students are assessed with two mid-term exams, lab reports, poster presentations, a final exam, and class participation.


Biodiversity Through Time syllabus (Acrobat (PDF) 89kB Jul29 09)

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