Module Provider: School of Biological Sciences
Number of credits: 10 [5 ECTS credits]
Terms in which taught: Spring term module
Non-modular pre-requisites:
Modules excluded:
Module version for: 2016/7

Module Convenor: Dr Ian Jenkins


Summary module description:

Through lectures and practical sessions this course will provide an evolutionary perspective on the origins of modern animals from primitive eukaryotes to modern humans. Students will develop advanced zoological knowledge during this module by studying early and transitional fossils to learn when, how and why the traits that underpin taxonomy developed. Students will learn how to to date rocks by the fossils they contain. Practicals will focus on modern analytical and quantitative methods, and will include extensive hands-on work with fossils from the Cole Museum teaching collection.

Assessable learning outcomes:
By the end of the course, students will be expected to understand the:

1. Principles of taphonomy, and be able to recognize the manner of fossilization that occurs at several palaeontologically important sites
2. History and principles that guide palaeontological research
3. Principles of ichnology, and how trace fossils can be used to infer behaviour
4. Principles of paleoecology, and the relationship between climatic change
5. In depth understanding the physiological and structural underpinning of taxonomy
6. Principles of biostratigraphy, when indicator species are being used to date sedimentary rock formations
7. Latest developments in palaeozoology, by discussing primary research publications.

Additional outcomes:

Outline content:
The lectures outlined below will be supported by a weekly practical or tutorial session in which students can examine fossilized examples of the groups covered in lectures and learn quantitative palaeontological techniques.

Each week will have two hours of lectures and either a two hour practical or tutorial sessions.

Lectures will cover the fossil and genetic evidence for the emergence of modern animals, including:

Principles of palaeontology, taphonomy and biostratigraphy; Choanoflagellates and origin of Porifera; Origins and genomics of Cnidaria and Ctenophora; small shelly fauna and the origin of predation; Origins and genetics of 'worms' from flatworms to annelids; The extensive fossil record of brachiopods and the earliest evidence for phoronids, entoprocts and bryozoans; The development of biomineralization and its role in the slow rise of mollusks; Origins and adaptations that led to the rise of arthropods and their ancestors, including trilobitomorphs, stem arthropods, onychophrans, tardigrades and chaetognaths; Trilobite ecology, physiology and vision; Chordate origins in the hemichordates, graptolites and echinoderms; Development and genetics of fish including conodonts, placoderms, acanthodians and bony fish; Early steps in tetrapod evolution and development; and the fossil and genetic evidence for human evolution.

Practicals will draw from the extensive teaching collections of the Cole Museum of Zoology and will include sessions in which students will have the opportunity to study: Stromatolites, different methods of fossilization and the earliest steps of evolution as revealed by our rare Precambrian material; Structure and development of corals and sponges and their place as biostratigraphic markers; Brachiopod structure and function, including quantitative population analysis; Mollusk diversity in the fossil record; Trilobite vision and adaptations, including rare fossils from the Cambrian Explosion; Echinoderm, hemichordate and chordate fossils.

Brief description of teaching and learning methods:
There will be two 50-minute lectures each week. An additional 2 hour weekly session will be used for a practical in which students will reinforce principles from each lecture by handling and examining fossils, or a tutorial in which students will discuss problems in taxonomy related to the module content. Students will keep notes from practical sessions which will be assessed in the final week of term. Students will lead a group discussion on the methods and logic used to assign the taxonomic position of a problematic early fossil group. Students will prepare a presentation and an individual report discussing an evolutionary topic. Learning will be assessed by a spots test in which students will progress through various stations in order to demonstrate knowledge from lectures.

Contact hours:
  Autumn Spring Summer
Lectures 20
Tutorials 6
Practicals classes and workshops 12
Guided independent study 62
Total hours by term 100.00
Total hours for module 100.00

Summative Assessment Methods:
Method Percentage
Report 35
Oral assessment and presentation 10
Class test administered by School 55

Other information on summative assessment:
Assessment: Coursework (100% of final mark)

1. Presentation
Student will present the fossil and (where possible) genetic evidence for a particular evolutionary transition that led to the divergence of a phyla or classes. Presentations will be assessed in the eighth and ninth practical sessions. (20% of final mark)

2. Research Report
A research report on fossil and genetic evidence for an evolutionary transition which is allowed to be on the same topic as the presentation or a different topic. The report will be up to 5,000 words and will discuss the molecular, morphological and (where possible) genetic evidence for a particular evolutionary transition that led to the divergence of a phyla or classes. (50% of final work)

3. Spot Test
An in-class quiz during the last practical session will require students to use their analytical abilities to answer questions about taxonomy, habitat and physiology of extinct animals and living fossils. (30% of final mark)

Formative assessment methods:
1. Lab notebook
Students will be expected to keep notes of experimental and analytical results and from practical sessions. Lab notebooks will be marked for content and will be expected to adhere to an appropriate scientific style.

2. Group Discussion
Students will work together in small groups to research the evidence for and against assignment of a problematic Ediacaran fossil group to a particular taxon. The research will be incorporated to make a tutorial session that will not be marked but will give students a better idea of what to expect from the presentations.

Penalties for late submission:
The Module Convenor will apply the following penalties for work submitted late, in accordance with the University policy.

  • where the piece of work is submitted up to one calendar week after the original deadline (or any formally agreed extension to the deadline): 10% of the total marks available for the piece of work will be deducted from the mark for each working day (or part thereof) following the deadline up to a total of five working days;
  • where the piece of work is submitted more than five working days after the original deadline (or any formally agreed extension to the deadline): a mark of zero will be recorded.

  • The University policy statement on penalties for late submission can be found at:
    You are strongly advised to ensure that coursework is submitted by the relevant deadline. You should note that it is advisable to submit work in an unfinished state rather than to fail to submit any work.

    Length of examination:

    Requirements for a pass:
    A mark of 40% overall.

    Reassessment arrangements:
    Re-examination in August / September only.

    Additional Costs (specified where applicable):
    1) Required text books:
    2) Specialist equipment or materials:
    3) Specialist clothing, footwear or headgear:
    4) Printing and binding:
    5) Computers and devices with a particular specification:
    6) Travel, accommodation and subsistence:

    Last updated: 21 December 2016

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