Biology: Evolution of the Vertebrates

In this course, we will explore the history of vertebrates revealed by fossils and living animals. We will cover the evolution of the major vertebrate groups, including discussions of the biogeography, stratigraphy, and paleoecology of select clades. Classroom activities will include hands on projects involving fossils, casts, and skeletons.

Topics to be covered:

  • What are the major vertebrate groups today and in the past?
  • When did major vertebrate groups evolve?
  • How did vertebrate diversity change through time?
    • Mass extinctions
    • Major radiations
  • What were some of the key innovations during the history of the vertebrates?
    • The invasion of the land
    • The evolution of flight
    • Secondarily aquatic and marine vertebrates
    • Macropredation

Other topics include:

  • Science and the scientific method
  • Geologic time
  • Paleontological techniques
  • Human evolution
  • Dinosaurs
  • Phylogeny estimation
  • Taphonomy
  • Behavior reconstruction
  • Careers in the biosciences

This class will also include a field trip to the Gray Fossil Site, a 7-4.5 million year old fossil deposit found in 2001. The site is particularly well-known for its mammal fossils, but other vertebrate groups known from the locality include fish, amphibians, and reptiles. We will be visiting the associated museum, the fossil preparation and curation laboratories, and the site itself.

3 thoughts on “Biology: Evolution of the Vertebrates

  1. What do lizards, parrots, fish, and even humans have in common? A whole lot more than you might think! This year’s biology section of Governor’s School focuses on understanding the features that unite all animals with backbones, not just the traits that make us unique. For a change of pace, and to observe living, breathing examples of several animals discussed in class, the biology students took a field trip to the Knoxville Zoo, armed with information about the features shared across Vertebrata.
    As a bonus, the Knoxville Zoo recently celebrated the birth of two Western Lowland Gorilla babies, a subspecies of primate that is classified as critically endangered. The zoo staff allowed a few people at a time to visit the newborns and their parents. Check out this photograph of one of the babies and another of students at the South American bird exhibit here:

    Knoxville Zoo

  2. Tennessee has a rich fossil history that is featured at the McClung Museum of Natural History and Culture on the University of Tennessee campus.

    The biology class took a mini field trip to the museum in order to see the Geology and Fossil History of Tennessee gallery, as well as a selection of trace fossils pulled from the museum’s collections. Unlike most of the fossils discussed in class thus far, trace fossils represent preserved evidence of ancient behaviors. Several footprints and trackways were on hand, as were fragments of dinosaur eggshells and coprolites (fossilized dung).

    Check out these photographs of the field trip here:

  3. The EotV students finished up with dinosaurs just in time for the weekend movie outing. Some attended Jurassic World and got to put their new knowledge to the test critiquing the movie’s dinosaurs.

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