Diversity and Evolution of Vertebrates

Module code: GL3111

In this module, you'll learn about the evolution of chordates, and their incredible diversity on Earth today and throughout the Phanerozoic. We will track their evolutionary journey from humble and enigmatic origins to the plethora of forms that have appeared and disappeared since.

There will be a strong emphasis on functional and ecological transitions and the ways in which vertebrate palaeontologists can interpret attributes which are seldom preserved in the fossil record (such as soft tissue, behaviour, and ecology). Besides lectures and practical work, we will discuss current controversies, analysis methods, and the latest discoveries from around the world in weekly workshops, based on key papers from the primary scientific literature.

This will prepare you for the group written report. This will focus on an objective scientific analysis of museum quality material, which you and your group will select from our extensive collections.

Topics covered

  • The first chordates
  • The water to land transition
  • Evolution of flight and swimming
  • Analysis methods used in vertebrate palaeontology
  • Patterns of relationships and character acquisition in the major groups of chordates, including vertebrates, jawed fishes, tetrapods, dinosaurs/birds and mammals

Learning

  • 18 hours of lectures
  • 16 hours of practical classes and workshops
  • 2 hours of supervised time in lab/studio/workshop
  • 114 hours of guided independent study

Assessment

  • Essay exam, 1½ hours (60%)
  • Written report (40%)