Office of Academic Affairs
Indian Institute of Science Education and Research Bhopal

Earth and Environmental Sciences

EES 320/321: Introduction to Paleontology (4)

Prerequisites (Desirable): All EES 100 and 200 level courses

Learning Objectives:

Extinct plants and animals make up 99% of all species that ever lived, and this course provides an opportunity to obtain insights on this larger perspective of the tree of life. This is an introductory course that provides insights into the fossil record against a background of ecological and evolutionary change. The empirical record of both biological and environmental change will be considered over different time scales. Apart from developing a conceptual understanding of the nature of the fossil record, the course will summarize the scientific evidence for the origin of life, history of life, mass extinctions, and related topics.

Course Contents:

The Fossil Record:
Introduction to the scope of paleontology and palaeobiology; What is a fossil? Fossilization potential of an organism; Process of fossilization; Taphonomy and quality of the fossil record; Factors required for extraordinary preservation and Lagerstatten; The quality of the fossil record; Variations in fossils; Species concepts and speciation; Taxonomy and phylogeny; Functional morphological analysis.

Systmatics and Evaluation:
Why Systematics? Evolution and Classification, molecular systematics, codes of systematic nomenclature; Macroevolution and the tree of life, fossil form and function.         

Diversity of Fossil Life:
The origin of life; Protists, Metazoans - origin and classification; Sponges and corals; Spirulians – lophopherates and molluscs; Arthropods; Brachiopods; Trilobites; Echinodermis and hemichordates; Fish and basal tetrapods; Dinosaurs and mammals; Front plants; Trace fossils; Diversification of life trends and radiations.

Fossils in Time and Space:
The diversification of life; Evolution and extinction, causes of extinction and study of faunal and floral changes across the major mass extinctions.                                             

Introduction to estimation and times of origins (fossils & molecular clocks); Punctuated equilibrium, ecosystem evolution; Explaining the Cambrian explosion; Framework of litho- and biostratigraphy, use of fossils, palaeobiogeography, palaeoecology, paleoenvironment and palaeoclimates; Palaeoclimate reconstructions using fossils; Stratigraphic palaeontology, biostratigraphy and correlation.

Suggested Readings :

  1. Prothero, D. R., 2013, Bringing Fossils to Life: An Introduction to Palaeobiology (3rd Edition), McGraw Hill.
  2. Benton, M. J., and Harper, D. A. T., 2009, Introduction to Palaeobiology and the Fossil Record Wiley-Blackwell.
  3. Clarkson, E. N. K., 1993, Invertebrate Paleontology and Evolution (3rd Edition), Chapman and Hall.
  4. Foote, M. J., and Miller, A. I., 2007, Principles of Paleontology, W. H. Freeman.
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