Instructor: Dr. Thomas R. Holtz, Jr.
Office: Geology 4106
Office Hours: Wed 10 - 11:30 am
Instructor: Dr. John W. Merck, Jr.
Office: Centreville 1218 (M, Tu) Geology 1119 (W, Th, F)
Office Hours: Thu 2:00 - 4:00 (via Zoom) or by appointment. Schedule appointment in advance in any event.
A survey of the evolution of the vertebrates, encompassing information from the diversity of living members, but concentrating on the contribution of the fossil record. Emphasis is on the phylogenetic systematics, comparative anatomy, developmental biology, and geochronology of major extinct and extant groups.
At least one of the following: BSCI207, BSCI392, GEOL104, GEOL204, GEOL331, HONR219D, or permission of the Geology Department.
- Matthew F. Bonnan. 2016. The Bare Bones: An Unconventional Evolutionary History of the Skeleton. Indiana University Press. 508 pp. ISBN 978-0-253-01832-8
- Additional readings from the technical literature: some listed below, others will be provided via ELMS
An advanced survey of vertebrate evolution as revealed by the fossil record and of the methods by which this pattern is illuminated. This course is intended for students with serious professional or avocational interests in vertebrate evolution and some prior knowledge of:
- The history of life
- The methods of phylogenetic systematics (cladistics)
- The rock record
We commence with the assumption that the entire semester will be on-line. (Sigh):
- Two 75 min. lectures weekly via Panopto
- One short Panopto introducing discussion material
- One 50 min. synchronous discussion session weekly - Monday 1:00 - 1:50. See ELMS for details.
Four credit hours.
The ELMS Canvas site will include announcements concerning the class; copies of the handouts; and so forth. If you have not already done so, make sure that you get access to ELMS.
Final grades will be based on the following items:
- Two mid-term exams (20% each)
- Final exam (25%)
- Five quizzes (10%)
- Four Homeworks (15%)
- Student-Generated Questions (5%)
- Discussion participation (5%)
Discussion (5%): The weekly discussion will be devoted either to explorations of the technical literature for selected specific topics or to exercises designed to improve your knowledge of background information not suitable for lecture. All students are expected to attend every synchronous meeting and be an active participant when appropriate. In some classes, there may be directed interactive activities or discussions. Some meetings will involve Breakout Rooms. A default grade of 5 will be given for every meeting a student attends. They may be awarded up to 2 more points as extra credit for particularly helpful or effective participation in the meeting. Students who are present for a discussion section but are non-participants or are disruptive may be docked up to 2 and 4 points (respectively) at the instructors' discretion.
Homework (15%): The weekly discussion will be devoted either to explorations of the technical literature for selected specific topics or to exercises designed to improve your knowledge of background information not suitable for lecture. Four graded homework assignments will serve as the basis for discussions. Three of these, plus a participation score reflecting the general quality of your participation in discussions will serve as the basis of your Discussion Homework grade. (The lowest homework score is dropped automatically.)
Quizzes (10%): There will be five quizzes. We drop the lowest score to calculate your quiz grade. These will be administered via ELMS
Student-Generated Questions (5%): Every week we will ask you to provide one question for each primary Panopto lecture, its answer (and in the case of a matching or multiple-choice question, additional incorrect options). Creating your own question is an effective way of better understanding the material. These questions will be made available to all. A selection of these will be used in the midterm and final exams.
Mid-term exams (40%): There will be two midterms covering material since the beginning of the semester or the previous midterm.
Final exam (25%): The final will be administered according to the standard schedule during finals week. Although cumulative in nature, It will emphasize material since the last mid-term .
Grade calculation: With diligent work it is possible for each student to attain an A in this class. Grading will be based on points gained from the examinations listed above, as follows:
|100-97% = A+||96-94% = A||93-90% = A-|
|89-87% = B+||86-84% = B||83-80% = B-|
|79-77% = C+||76-74% = C||73-70% = C-|
|69-67% = D+||66-64% = D||63-60% = D-|
|<60% = F|
Class description and attendance policy: Attendance won't be taken, however attendance is required. Exams will be based on lecture and discussion material and reading assignments. A participation score will make up 15% of your discussion grade. Posted web notes are intended as a synopsis of lecture material only and are made available as current and future reference material. We recommend printing these prior to class and making marginal notations. Actual lectures may include additional information. If you miss a lecture you must get full notes from a colleague.
By the end of the semester, every student should be able to:
- Identify, locate, and interpret technical literature in vertebrate paleontology
- Correctly interpret major features and many details of the osteology of extinct and extant vertebrates
- Display proficient knowledge of the pattern of vertebrate evolution
- Understand major connections between vertebrate development and evolution
- Critically evaluate paleontological analyses in the technical literature.
- Discussion: Introduction, course goals, and review (TH)
- The Fossil Record and Vertebrate Taphonomy (JM)
- Vertebrates Through Time (TH)
- 2/5 - End of schedule adjustment.
- Discussion: Extinctions and Extinction Events (TH)
- Vertebrates within Metazoa (JM)
- Body-Building - Vertebrate Development (JM)
- Discussion: Phylogenetic Systematics (TH)
- Quiz I
- Homework I (Geologic Time & Phylogenetics) assigned
- Quiz I
- Fossil and jawless vertebrates (JM)
- The rise of Gnathostomata and "Placodermi" (JM)
- Discussion: Vertebrate skeletal anatomy I - Introducing the skull (JM)
- Homework I due
- Eugnathostomata, Chondrichthyes, and "spiny sharks" (JM)
- The rise of Osteichthyes and basal Actinopterygii (JM)
- Discussion: Vertebrate skeletal anatomy II - The axial skeleton(JM)
- Quiz II
- Neopterygii (JM)
- Sarcopterygii (JM)
- Discussion: Vertebrate skeletal anatomy III - The appendicular skeleton (JM)
- The tetrapod stem: Sarcopterygians become "digitized" (JM)
- Crown Tetrapoda (JM)
- Discussion: the development and evolution of the tetrapod limb (JM)
- Midterm Exam I
- Amniote origins and Introduction to Synapsida (TH)
- Non-mammalian Therapsida and the Rise of Mammals (TH)
- Discussion: The Amniote Skull (TH)
- Homework II due
- Homework III (Odontology) assigned
- Mesozoic Mammal Diversity; Diversification of Crown-Mammals; Marsupialia (TH)
- Placentalia I: Afrotheria, Xenarthra, and Euarchontoglires (TH)
- Discussion: Synapsid Odontology (TH)
- Quiz III
- Homework III (Odontology) due
- Placentalia II: Introducing Laurasiatheria (TH)
- Placentalia III: Euungulata (TH)
- Discussion:Biomechanics of terrestrial locomotion (TH)
- Introduction to Sauropsida (JM)
- Lepidosauromorpha (JM)
- Discussion: Biomechanics of aquatic locomotion (JM)
- Midterm Exam II;
- Last day to withdraw with a W?????
- Euryapsida (JM)
- Introduction to Archosauromorpha (JM)
- Discussion: TBD (??)
- Archosauriformes through Pseudosuchia (TH)
- Introduction to Crocodylomorpha (TH)
Bonnan, Chaps. 16-17
Wilberg, et al. 2019. Evolutionary structure and timing of major habitat shifts in Crocodylomorpha. Scientific Reports 9: 514 (2019). doi: 10.1038/s41598-018-36795-1
- Discussion: The Biomechanics of Flight (JM)
- Quiz IV
- Homework IV (Locomotion) assigned
- Quiz IV
- Introduction to Ornithodira; Pterosauria (TH)
- Dinosauria Origins; Ornithischia (TH)
- Discussion: Thermal Metabolism of Fossil Vertebrates (TH)
- Homework IV due
- Saurischia (TH)
- Theropoda II (including Aves) (TH)
- 10:59 PM, 5/11/21 Deadline to opt for PF grading or to withdraw with a W.
- Discussion: Outstanding Problems in Vertebrate Paleontology (TH)
- Quiz V
- "God's noblest creation"; Let's Go Terps! (JM)
- TBD - Final Exam
- The inspiration of three generations of paleontologists from an age where there could be an undisputed master:
Alfred S. Romer, 1966. Vertebrate Paleontology. University of Chicago Press. 468 pp.
- The ultimate resource for illustrations and morphology of fossil vertebrates:
Robert L. Carroll. 1990. Vertebrate Paleontology and Evolution. W. H. Freeman and Company. 698 p.
- A compact and accessible synthesis of current thinking on fossil vertebrates:
Michael J. Benton. 2014. Vertebrate Palaeontology. Wiley-Blackwell; 4 edition. 480 pp.
- The grand resource of the future - eagerly awaited:
Darren Naish. 20??. Working Title: The Vertebrate Fossil Record.
Expectations and Policies
Expectations & Attendance:
Attendance in the Zoom discussion meetings is required.
Attendance in laboratory is required. Prior to each lab there will be instruction about aspects of that day's material provided on Panopto and lab quizzes evaluating previous weeks' material on ELMS. The specimens will often be accessible during the week if you wish to revisit them before turning in your assignment; however, due to loss of specimens in the past some individual fossils might only be made available during lab time.
NOTE: Attendance means more than mere presence: it means "paying attention". Please take out your ear buds and refrain from texting/web-browsing/doing homework/etc. in class and in lab.
Communication in this course will primarily be by means of the ELMS Inbox email system. Even given its online nature, there is the possibility that due to unusual inclement weather or other unexpected emergencies, the University may close. Please consult the University main webpage or call 301-405-7669 (SNOW) to confirm such cancellations. Dr. Holtz will contact students via ELMS in order to inform them concerning delays of due dates for projects to be handed in or for exams: typically these will be shifted until the next available class date.
The University has provided a page on Academic policies here. Each student is responsible for reviewing this page with regards to issues of Academic Integrity; the Code of Student Conduct; Sexual Misconduct; Discrimination; Accessibility; Attendance, Absences, or Missed Assignments; Student Rights Regarding Undergraduate Courses; Official UMD Communication; Mid-Term Grades; Complaints About Course Final Grades; Copyright and Intellectual Property; Final Exams and Course Evaluations; and Campus Resources. For specifics with regards to this course, see the following:
Given the reliance on technology this semester, please make certain that you have access to appropriate hardware, software, and Internet connections. If you are concerned about your ability to connect remotely for this course, please consult the following information about solutions provided by the Division of Information Technology:
NOTE: As part of the nature of the course, there will be a lot of memorization (less than a foreign language class, but more than that found in more mathematically-oriented introductory science classes). This will include lots of anatomical, geological, and paleontological terms, as well as evolutionary and temporal relationships. If you have difficulty memorizing, this may not be the class for you. Also, if there are words or concepts with which you are not familiar, feel free to ask Drs. Holtz or Merck (in discussion, at office hours, over email, etc.) for an explanation or clarification.
Copyright: © 2021 John W. Merck, Jr. and Thomas R. Holtz, Jr. as to this syllabus and all lectures. Students are prohibited from copying and selling course materials, from selling lecture notes, and from being paid to take lecture notes without the express written permission of the faculty teaching this course.
Part I: Introduction and Context
|Week one (Jan. 25-29):||
||Reading: Bonnan, Chaps. 1-2|
|Week two (Feb. 1-5):||
Part II: Vertebrate Diversity and Evolution
|Week two, cont'd.:||
||Reading: Bonnan, Chap. 3|
|Week three (Feb. 8-12):||
||Reading: Bonnan, Chaps. 4|
|Week four (Feb. 15-19):||
Bonnan, Chap. 7
Coates, (2013) Sharks and the deep origin of modern jawed vertebrates The Palaeontological Association 57th Annual Meeting Podcast.
Zhu, et al. (2013) The braincase and jaws of a Devonian "acanthodian" and modern gnathostome origins Nature 502, 188-193.
|Week five (Feb. 21-26):||
Bonnan, Chap. 7
Bonnan, Chap. 8
|Week six (Mar. 1-5):||
Bonnan, Chap. 9
Bonnan, Chap. 10-11
Bonnan, Chap. 11
Coates et al., 2008. Ever Since Owen: Changing Perspectives on the Early Evolution of Tetrapods (with excellent illustrations)
|Week seven (Mar. 8-12):||
Bonnan, Chaps. 12, 20
Bonnan, Chap. 20
|Spring Break Mar. 14-21|
|Week eight (Mar. 22-26):||
Bonnan, Chap. 19
Bonnan, Chap. 21
|Week nine (Mar. 29- Apr. 2):||
|Week ten (Apr. 5-9):||
Bonnan, Chaps. 13-14
Bonnan, Chaps. 14-15
|Week eleven (Apr. 12-16):||
Bonnan, Chap. 15
|Week twelve (Apr. 19-23):||
|Week thirteen (Apr. 26-30):||
Witton, M.P. 2017. Pterosaurs in Mesozoic food webs: a review of fossil evidence. Geological Society, London, Special Publications 455: 7-23. doi: 10.1144.SP455.3
Benson, R.B.J. 2018. Dinosaur macroevolution and macroecology. Annual Reviews of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics 49:379-408. doi: 10.1146/annurev-ecolsys-110617-062231
|Week fourteen (May 3-7):||
|Week fifteen (May 10-14):||
* The instructors reserve the right to revise this schedule at their most trivial whim.
Additional reading on specific topics is cited in many lecture notes.
PDF version of the Syllabus and Lecture schedule available on ELMS Latest revision: 15 January 2021