A study of temporal and spatial changes of the Earth's fauna within the context of evolution and geological processes. The first portion of the course will be an introduction to invertebrate and vertebrate paleobiology that will focus on classification, relationships, and evolutionary history. The second portion of the course will focus on analysis and use of paleontological data in evolution, systematics, paleoecology, and extinction.
Students enroll in one course that includes both lecture and lab. The lecture and the lab are both taught by the professor.
Private four-year institution, primarily undergraduate
This is an upper-level undergraduate course that is cross-listed for biology and geology. For biology majors and minors, the course may be used to fulfill a requirement for an upper-level course in large-scale biology (i.e. evolution, ecology). For geology majors and minors, the course counts as an upper-level elective. Prequisites are that enrolled students must have taken either historical geology or organismal biology.
This course gives students an introduction to the field of paleobiology, which incorporates knowledge from both biology and geology. The first portion of the course will be an introduction to invertebrate and vertebrate paleontology that will focus on classification, relationships, and evolutionary history. The second portion of the course will focus on analysis and use of paleontological data in evolution, systematics, paleoecology, and extinction, and therefore will revolve around primary literature discussion. Laboratories will introduce taxonomy and data analysis, then students will work in groups on small independent projects during the scheduled lab time. At least two field trips are planned. The first will be to the Penn-Dixie Quarry just outside of Buffalo, NY. This will allow students to gain field experience and provide specimens for data analysis and independent projects. The second field trip will be to the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh or the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, where students will be able to go "behind the scenes" to explore the paleontological collections. This combination of lecture, lab, and field experience gives students both theoretical and applied knowledge of paleobiology and allows them to see the intersection of geology and biology first hand. In addition, the emphasis on writing and presentation skills and scientific literacy is in line with practices in the Biology and Geology Departments.
- Students should understand the interdisciplinarity of paleobiology and apply both biological and geological concepts to the field.
- Students should be able to identify common invertebrate and vertebrate fossils
- Students should be able to analyze paleoecology based on a fossil assemblage
- Students should be able to use the form of a fossil to interpret its lifestyle
- Students should be able to apply knowledge of mass extinctions and historical biodiversity to current issues in biodiversity and extinction
- Students should be able to navigate and critically read the primary literature
- Students should be able to formulate new research questions and potential studies in paleobiology.
- Students should demonstrate deeper quantitative literacy by the end of the course
- Students should utilize peer teaching across disciplines, as both biology and geology majors are enrolled in the course
- Students should continue to develop their scientific writing skills
- Students will develop inquiry-based activities for local public schools and learn science communication skills
I have not taught this course before, so this is very much up in the air. I plan on using the "lecture" period as a way to not only learn the basics of paleobiology, but also as a discussion period for paper discussion and science communication. The main lab project is on the quantitative paleoecology of the Hamilton Group (Devonian), and as such includes field work, specimen curation, taxonomy, and quantitative assessment of biodiversity. I plan on somehow integrating this into an outreach opportunity at our local schools, and am currently working with a local teacher on the logistics.
This course is in line with the Biology departmental mission statement, which states that "we are committed to providing independent research opportunities in...upper-level courses" and "as part of their engagement in research, we provide students with the skills to...effectively communicate". In addition, as stated in the Course Catalogue, we offer biology that emphasizes, among other things, "the integration among its sub-disciplines and with other areas of the liberal arts, including related disciplines such as...geology (and) physics". The Geology department focuses on similar areas. The design of this course fits with those areas of focus. In addition, I am actively involved with our local K-12 schools and science outreach, and it is something I am starting to integrate into my courses.
For lecture, quizzes and participation points will be used for assessment. Lab notebooks and lab reports will be graded to assess the laboratory portion of the course.
References and Notes:
I haven't decided on a textbook yet, as I'm still waiting on exam copies. I will be composing a course packet with some background information on computer software and geology/paleontology of our field site. We will also rely on the primary literature for this course.