PALEOBIOLOGY AND VERTEBRATE EVOLUTION

Credits: 
12
Site: 
PARMA
Year of erogation: 
2021/2022
Unit Coordinator: 
Semester: 
Single Annual Cycle
Year of study: 
3
Language of instruction: 

Italian

Modules: 

Learning outcomes of the course unit

The course aims to provide the fundamental principles of Paleontology, with particular reference to the significance of fossils in the theory of evolution and their application in phylogenetic, paleoenvironmental, paleoclimatic and stratigraphic reconstructions. In addition, students will be provided with tools to understand how vertebrate forms and functions have evolved to ensure the ecological success of the Vertebrata subphylum. Objectives: 1. to know the diversity of vertebrates; 2. understand the basic anatomical structures and their evolution; 3. discuss the functional morphology of anatomical systems; 4. linking forms, function and ecological context; 5. discuss the major evolutionary adaptations. Students will be encouraged to think critically about the evolutionary processes that have led to the complex structural, functional and behavioral adaptations of vertebrates. Through the systematic paleontology, and the comparison with current examples, a taxonomic and phylogenetic framework is provided to understand the history of the evolution of life on Earth in relation to the great geological and paleoclimatic changes.

Prerequisites

Students must have a strong background in biology and zoology: animal reproduction, theory of evolution, speciation and systematics.
Basic knowledge in Geology

Course contents summary

The course aims to provide the fundamental principles of Paleontology and Vertebrate Evolution, with particular reference to the significance of fossils in the theory of evolution and their application in phylogenetic, paleoenvironmental, paleoclimatic and stratigraphic reconstructions. They will examine not only the morphophysiological characteristics of the systematic groups, but also their natural history, the general adaptations and their transformation in relation to environmental changes, relations with other living beings and interference caused by human activity.
Through the systematic paleontology, and the comparison with current examples, a taxonomic and phylogenetic framework is provided to understand the history of the evolution of life on Earth in relation to the great geological and paleoclimatic changes. For Vertebrates in particular: the study of phylogenetic relationships among the main vertebrate taxa; comparative anatomy; functional morphology; natural history; biogeography of fossil and living forms.

Course contents

Vertebrate evolution:
During the first class, information about the program, the aims of the Course and the examination methods will be proved. Information on the teaching materials available for the students as well as a list of suggested text books will be provided.
CLASSIFICATION AND EVOLUTION OF VERTEBRATES: history, classification, systematic phylogenetics, evolutionary hypotheses. DD: Knowledge and understanding skills, ability to learn, communicative skills.
RELATIONSHIPS BETWEEN VERTEBRATES AND BASIC STRUCTURE: what is a vertebrate, basic structure. DD: Knowledge and understanding skills, learning abilities, communicative skills.
THE FIRST VERTEBRATES: jawless vertebrates and the origin of jawed vertebrate, evolution of the vertebrates in the Paleozoic. DD: Knowledge and understanding skills, ability to learn, making judgments.
NON AMNIOTIC VERTEBRATES - FISHES AND ANPHIBIANS: Adaptations to life in water. DD: Knowledge and understanding skills, ability to learn.THE RADIATION OF CARTILAGINOUS FISH: the diversification of the chondrichthyes, the elasmobranch and the current batoidea. DD: Knowledge and understanding skills, ability to learn, making judgments.
DOMINATING LIFE IN WATER: THE MAJOR RADIATION OF FISHES: The Origin and evolution of Bony Fishes, Actinopterygii and Sarcopterygii. DD: Knowledge and understanding skills, ability to learn, making judgments.
LIVING ON LAND: Support and Locomotion, Eating, Reproduction, Breathing, Conserving Water in a Dry Environment Controlling Body Temperature in a Changing Environment. DD: Knowledge and understanding skills, ability to learn, making judgments.
ORIGIN AND RADIATION OF TETRAPODS Tetrapod Origins, Radiation and Diversity of Non-Amniotic Paleozoic Tetrapods, Amniotes. DD: Knowledge and understanding skills, ability to learn, making judgments.
SALAMANDERS, ANURANS, AND CAECILIANS. DD: Knowledge and understanding skills, ability to learn.
SYNAPSIDS AND SAUROPSIDS: two Approaches to Terrestrial Life. DD: Knowledge and understanding skills, ability to learn, making judgments.
TURTLES: structures, functions, and behavioral biology. DD: Knowledge and understanding skills, ability to learn
THE LEPIDOSAURS: Tuatara, Lizards, and Snakes, radiation and evolution, behavioral ecology. DD: Knowledge and understanding skills, ability to learn, making judgments.
THE MESOZOIC FAUNA: Mesozoic Diapsids: Dinosaurs, Crocodilians, Birds, and Others, ectothermy. . DD: Knowledge and understanding skills, ability to learn, making judgments.
BIRDS AND AVIAN SPECIALIZATION: structures, wings and flight, nutrition, behavioral ecology. DD: Knowledge and understanding skills, ability to learn, making judgments.
THE SYNAPSIDA AND THE EVOLUTION OF MAMMALS: from the Mesozoic radiation to the Cenozoic. DD: Knowledge and understanding skills, ability to learn.
MAMMALS DIVERSITY, CHARACTERISTICS AND SPECIALIZATION: endothermy, behavioral ecology and sociality. DD: Knowledge and understanding skills, ability to learn.
PRACTICAL LABORATORIES: fish dissection, bird recognition in the field, visit to a natural history museum. . DD: Knowledge and understanding; Applying knowledge and understanding; Making judgements; Communication skills; Learning skills

Paleobiology:
PRELIMINARY INFORMATION
During the first class, information about the programm, the aims of the Course and the examination methods (oral examination) will be provided. Information on the teaching materials available for the students as well as a list of suggested text books will be provided.

INTRODUCTION TO PALEOBIOLOGY STUDY: Paleontology and Paleobiology: definition, historical development, subdivisions and applications. DI: Knowledge and understanding; making judgements; applying knowledge and understanding.

THE FOSSILS: biostratinomy and taphonomy; Principle of superposition, relative dating and absolute (radiometric) dating. Processes of fossilization. DI: Knowledge and understanding.

GENERAL PALEONTOLOGY: The concept of species, systematics, taxonomy, classification and nomenclature. Actualism, uniformitarianism and catastrophism; fossils and environment (Paleoecology and Paleoclimatology). The geologic time, fossils in time and space (basics of biostratigraphy and palaeobiogeography). DI: Knowledge and understanding.

COMPARATIVE ANATOMY: concept of homology and analogy, correlation of the organs, ontogeny and phylogeny, biogenetic law. DI: Knowledge and understanding.

FOSSILS AND EVOLUTION: history of evolution; theories of Lamarck and Darwin; Darwinism, neo-Darwinism, Evo Devo. Micro and Macroevolution; The phyletic gradualism and punctuated equilibria; cladistics. DI: Knowledge and understanding.

SISTEMATIC PALEOBIOLOGY: Study of the principal stages of the history of life on Earth through the Systematic Paleontology. DI: Knowledge and understanding; making judgements; applying knowledge and understanding.

THE INTERTEBRATES: Porifera; Coelenterates; theory of the formation of the atolls; Brachiopods; Mollusks: Echinoderms (echinoids and crinoids),Trilobites; Graptolites. DI: Knowledge and understanding; making judgements; applying knowledge and understanding.

THE CHORDATES: Urochordata; Cephalochordata. DI: Knowledge and understanding; making judgements; applying knowledge and understanding.

THE VERTEBRATES: fish; Amphibians; (Onset of respiration); Reptiles; (Amniotic egg); Birds; (Skeleton tire and flight); Synapsidi (mammal-like reptiles); Mammals; The Quaternary mammals of the Po Plain. DI: Knowledge and understanding.

Recommended readings

For the module of Vertebrate evolution: Pearson Editore Vertebrate Life (9th edition) by Pough, Janis, and Heiser – Pearson 2014
plus course slide provided by the teacher on the ELLY system.

for the Paleobiology module: Vialli Vittorio, 1998. Lezioni di paleontologia. 248 p., ill., 2 ed. Editore Pitagora

Clipboard provided by the teacher in PDF format by sharing on Google Drive

Teaching methods

Vertebrate evolution: Lectures in the classroom are held with the help of PowerPoint presentations that are made available to students; the general concepts followed are illustrated with examples on species of the various taxa. The exercises in the field and in the laboratory include: recognition of birds in the natural environment, dissection of a fish, visit to the museum of natural history in Milan.
Paleobiology: classroom lectures;
Laboratories (excursions) on the field for the observation of taxonomic processes and fossilization. Paleontological survey on the variations of sedimentary facies and investigations on the fossil mammals of the river Po.

Assessment methods and criteria

Vertebrate evolution: After taking this course, a student should be able to: 1. Apply the scientific and comparative methods to the study of vertebrates. 2. Recognize the basic structures and organization of the vertebrate body. 3. Know and use the basic terminology used in discussion of vertebrate zoology. 4. Know the theory, mechanisms, outcomes, and history of vertebrate evolution. 5. Analyze and compare vertebrate form and function in an ecological and evolutionary context. 6. Discuss different classification, taxonomic, and systematic approaches used in vertebrate zoology. 7. Identify the major vertebrate groups. Written examination (1-hour time available) (consisting of 10 multiple choice questions and 2 open questions) followed by an oral examination. Aims: to verify the capacity of the student to tackle problems of zoology using the methodological principles and knowledge acquired during the course; to evaluate the student's ability to carry out cross-links between the various topics covered during the Course.

Paleobiology: The examination test is composed by three questions:
1) Definition and argumentation of general paleontology;
2) Taxonomical description of a taxon;
3) Paleontological description and classification of a fossil.
The exam is aimed at verifying the knowledge of discipline, taxonomic knowledge and the ability to practically apply the acquired theoretical concepts.

Final mark will be the average of the two score obtained in the two modules.

Other informations

Information on the content of the course (see below) are associated with the relative "Dublin Indicators" (DD) that characterize their purposes.
Dublin Descritpors:
- Knowledge and understanding;
- Applying knowledge and understanding;
- Making judgements;
- Communication skills;
- Learning skills.