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School of Environment, Education and Development

BSc Geography and Geology with a year abroad / Course details

Year of entry: 2018

Course unit details:

Unit code EART20112
Credit rating 10
Unit level Level 2
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Offered by School of Earth and Environmental Sciences
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


Life first appeared on earth more than 3000-million years ago, and since this time has undergone many changes, driven by evolution. This course will explore the evolution of life in deep time, from its origins, through major evolutionary transitions, to the ecosystems we have today.


Unit title Unit code Requirement type Description
EART10211 Pre-Requisite Compulsory


¿   To provide an overview of major milestones in the history of life, the patterns and processes of evolution, and the structure of the tree of life.

¿   Further develop the uses, description and classification of both invertebrates and vertebrate fossils in a stratigraphic framework. This will include an introduction to microfossils.

¿   To cover topics in palaeoecology such as fossils as indicators of environment, and the development of ecosystems. 

Learning outcomes

Students at the end of the course will:

  • Have further developed their knowledge of the major invertebrate, vertebrate and microfossil groups.
  • Understand the fundamentals of evolution, the tree of life, and pre-Phanerozoic history of life on earth.
  • Be able to demonstrate how fossils are used for biostratigraphy and as indicators of palaeoenvironment.



Lecture 01 - Evolutionary milestones.

This will provide an overview of important evolutionary milestones in the first 3000-million years of evolution. Throughout there will be a focus on how these appear in the fossil record. These will include: Early earth, the origin of life and abiogenesis; early evolution, namely the last universal common ancestor, and splits between Archaea and Bacteria; the great oxygenation event, precursors to this, and its impact; eukaryotes, and their origin through endosymbiosis; the origins origins of sexual reproduction; the evolution of multicellularity; Ediacaran fossils - their affinities and taphonomy; the origin of animals in the Cambrian explosion.


Lecture 02 - Evolution.

This will introduce the basics of evolution, its processes, patterns, and history of study. Topics will include: Natural selection, variation, and heritability; Fitness and types of selection; genetic drift and randomness; adaptation, and associated with this, morphodynamics; species concepts; the different processes of speciation; the rate and patterns of evolution; gene duplication and Evo-Dvo.


Lecture 03 - The tree of life.

Here we will look at the tree of life - how it is structured, and how we can work this out from organisms and fossils. Topics will include: Species concepts;  taxonomy, classification and systematics; cladistics, including characters, homology, homoplasy, convergence, genetic sequences, parsimony, heuristic searches, and likelihood methods; interpreting phylogenies;fossils in phylogenies; molecular clocks; and then an overview of the topology of the tree of life.


Lecture 04 - History of palaeontology.

This lecture will focus on the history of Palaeontology as a science. It will highlight why this is important to study, and the concept of Whig historiography, plus pre-Palaeontological interactions between humans and fossils (in folklore and as medicine). It will then provide an overview of a number of historical figures in the development of palaeontology: Xenophanes of Colophon (c. 570–475 BC) / Herodotus (c. 484–425 BC) / Aristotle (c. 384–322 BC) / Ibn S¿n¿/Avicenna (c. 980–1037) / Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519) / Nicholas Steno (1638 - 1686) / Robert Hooke (1635 – 1703) /  Carl Linnaeus (1707 – 1778) / James Hutton (1726 – 1797) /  William Smith (1769 – 1839) / Georges Cuvier (Jean Léopold Nicolas Frédéric Cuvier; 1769 – 1832) / Mary Anning (1799 – 1847) / Henry Thomas De la Beche (1796 – 1855) / William Buckland (1784 – 1856) / Charles Lyell (1797 – 1875) / Adam Sedgwick (1785 - 1873) / Roderick Impey Murchison (1792 – 1871) / Charles Lapworth ( 1842 - 1920) / Richard Owen (1804-1892) / Gideon Mantell (1790 – 1852) / Edward Drinker Cope (1840 - 1897) / Othniel Charles Marsh (1831 - 1899) / Alfred Russel Wallace (1823-1913) / Charles Robert Darwin (1809 – 1882) / Lord Kelvin (William Thomson; 1824 - 1907) / Jean Louis Rodolphe Agassiz (1807 – 1873) / Dorothea Bate (1878 – 1951) / Marie Stopes (1880 – 1958).


Lecture 05 - Biostratigraphy.

The start of this lecture will revise basic stratigraphy and include a small exercise to demonstrate these concepts. It will then provide an overview of the principles and concepts of Biostratigraphy, including what it is, the concept of Litho- versus Biostratigraphy, the use of biozones, and what affects temporal resolution. It will highlight the properties of a good index fossil, and then revise the different major invertebrate fossils groups, and their stratigraphic distribution. It will also touch on correlation, and quantitative biostratigraphy.


Practical 01 - Inkscape.

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Assessment methods

Method Weight
Other 25%
Written exam 50%
Practical skills assessment 25%
  • Written Exam (50%)
  • Poster (25%)
  • Practical Test (25%)

Feedback methods

Formative feedback will be provided during the practical sessions. Summative feedback from the Practical Exams will be given within one week of the assessment by the course leader (including marks). Exam feedback will follow SEAES policy.

Recommended reading

Armstrong, H. and Brasier, M. 2004. Microfossils. John Wiley and Sons, 306p.

Brenchley, P. and Harper, D. 1998. Palaeoecology: Ecosystems, Environments and Evolution. Chapman and Hall, 432p.

Futuyma, D.J. 2013. Evolution: Third Edition.  Sinauer Associates,  656p.

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 20
Practical classes & workshops 7
Independent study hours
Independent study 73

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Russell Garwood Unit coordinator

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