Earth Sciences

Thinking of studying earth sciences?

Undergraduate Admissions


Seasonal Arctic summer ice extent still hard to forecast.

A new study lead by Prof Julienne Stroeve says year-to-year forecasts of the Arctic’s summer ice extent are not yet reliable.

Bookmark and Share

GEOL2008 Vertebrate Palaeontology and Evolution



The main aim is to use vertebrates to illustrate the use of analytical methods to study evolutionary patterns and processes.

The course provides an introduction to the major vertebrate groups [jawless vertebrates, placoderms, cartilaginous fish, ray-finned fish, lobe-finned fish, early tetrapods, modern amphibians, lizards, snakes, turtles, crocodiles, dinosaurs, birds and mammals]. The core of the course concerns the anatomy and evolutionary relationships of these groups, which are examined through lectures, practical classes and museum tours.

The methods introduced by these lectures include phylogenetic analysis, cladistic biogeography, taxic and phylogenetic diversity estimation, and the use of Finite Element Analysis in biomechanics.

We examine evolutionary phenomena such as exaptation and adaptation, heterochrony, extinction, adaptive radiation, and the influence of physical factors on evolutionary history. To broaden the scope of the course, some plant, invertebrate and microfossil groups are also discussed, particularly in relation to major events such as the invasion of the land and the end-Cretaceous mass extinction.


Students should:

  • show an ability to identify members of particular vertebrate groups;
  • be able to analyse the functional significance of particular anatomical features;
  • be able to apply phylogenetic and other analytical techniques;
  • have developed a more detailed understanding of key evolutionary events such as the end-Cretaceous extinction.


The focus is on vertebrates, but basic principles of palaeontology will be illustrated using other groups (plants, invertebrates, micro-fossils etc.).

Lectures will include:

  • basic vertebrate anatomy;
  • Introduction to phylogenetic analysis;
  • Classification;
  • The origin and evolution of vertebrates;
  • Mass extinctions;
  • Exaptation and origin of evolutionary novelty;
  • Introduction to diversity and biogeographic analysis.
  • Functional morphology and biomechanics.
Title Vertebrate Palaeontology and Evolution
UG Code GEOL2008
Coordinator Dr. Paul Upchurch
Other Contributors Guest lecturers
Term 1
Credit 0.5 CU
Written Exam 60% (2.5 hrs unseen)
Practical Exam
 30% (2 hrs unseen)
Coursework 10% (1 essay of 2,000 words)
Pre-Requisites GEOL1003 History of Life
Maths & Stats Content and Requirement There are no mathematical skills required for this course. Topics with partially mathematical aspects, such as the use of randomisation tests, are covered in the course from first principles.
Total Number of Hours of Student Work 188 hours
Hours of Lectures/Seminars 18 hours
Hours of Practicals/Problem Classes 18 hours
Hours of Tutorials 0
Days of Fieldwork One half-day trip to the Natural History Museum
Other None

Annual Monitoring

download pdf
Categorizing Student Performance Levels
download pdf

Moodle page

Moodle page

UCL Earth Sciences · Gower Street London WC1E 6BT · +44 (0)20 7679 2363 · more