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GEOL0021 Biodiversity and Macroevolutionary Patterns

This course provides training in the most important aspects of analysing evolutionary history using the fossil record (e.g. taxonomy, phylogeny, biogeography, diversity and morphometrics).

Problem-based learning forms the core teaching method, with an emphasis on student-led research.

Coordinator: Dr Sebastian Groh

Modules
TitleBiodiversity and Macroevolutionary Patterns
UG CodeGEOL0021 
CoordinatorDr Sebastian Groh
Other Contributors 
Term1  
Credit15
Oral Exam20% (10 minute talk followed by 5 minutes of Q & A)
Coursework

80% (three pieces of group-based research presented as 3000-5000 word reports)

 

Pre-RequisitesGEOL0003 History of LifeGEOL0009 Vertebrate Palaeontology and Evolution is highly desirable.
Maths & Stats Content and RequirementNone
Total Number of Hours of Student Work188 hours
Hours of Lectures/Seminars3 1-hour seminars
Hours of Practicals/Problem Classes20 hours
Hours of Tutorials0
Days of Fieldwork0
Content

Explanation of the techniques used to construct and test evolutionary trees; Use of such trees to study fossil record quality, biodiversity, biogeographic history, morphological evolution, mass extinctions etc; A series of case studies illustrating the application of the above methods to real data (microfossils, invertebrates, vertebrates).

AIMS

The aims are to provide students with:

  • A working knowledge of how phylogenetic trees are constructed, and the strengths and weaknesses of analytical methods;
  • An understanding of the role of phylogenetic trees in palaeontological research (e.g. functional morphology, biodiversity, biogeography etc.);
  • Non-phylogenetic approaches to macroevolutionary pattern reconstruction (e.g. taxic diversity estimation, morphometrics);
  • A clear appreciation of the history of life during the Phanerozoic, especially with regard to large-scale macroevolutionary patterns such as mass extinction events and the impact of geological/climatic change on organismal distributions.

A problem-oriented teaching approach will allow students to ask questions about the evolutionary history of a group of their choosing, and then attempt to answer such questions using the methods discussed in the course.

OUTCOMES

By the end of the course, students should:

  • Be able to build phylogenetic trees and use them as part of their palaeontological research;
  • Be able to select the appropriate methods and statistical tests for a particular palaeontological analysis.
  • Have an appreciation of current methodological problems and controversies relating to evolutionary history;
  • Be able to describe key evolutionary events that occurred during the Phanerozoic and discuss the competing explanations for such events.
  • Write a report summarizing our current state of knowledge of the evolution of a selected group of organisms, the quality of its fossil record, and what research needs to be carried out in the near future.