GEOL 789W Recent Advances in Geology: Phanerozoic History, Macroevolution, and Earth Systems Science

(GEOL 489W Special Topics in Geology: Phanerozoic History, Macroevolution, and Earth Systems Science)

Spring Semester 2008

JRN 1105 12:30-1:45 pm TuTh

Instructor: Dr. Thomas R. Holtz, Jr.

Room: Centreville 1216 Office Hours: T 8:30-11 am, or by appointment

Phone: (301) 405-4084, Email:

NOTE: It is your responsibility as a student to completely read through and understand this syllabus. If you have questions about it, please contact Dr. Holtz. You will be held responsible for following all requirements of this syllabus.

COURSE DESCRIPTION: Review of recent research on the interactions between the evolving multicellular biota and the non-living Earth systems over the past 630 million years (Ediacaran Period and Phanerozoic Eon). Examination of large-scale evolutionary and ecological patterns and of specific events and longer term trends in the History of Life.

Item Percentage
Participation and Discussions50%
Paper Presentation20%

READINGS: No textbook is required for this course. Instead, a series of readings of the recent research on late Neoproterozoic and Phanerozoic history will be provided online. Except in rare cases, these readings will be available in pdf form directly from links on the course website to the appropriate online journal sources.

STUDENT-LED READING DISCUSSIONS: At several occasions throughout the course, students will be asked ahead of time to present one of the readings relevant to the topic. Although all students are responsible for all readings, it is important that you pay particular attention to the ones for which you are responsible.

PAPER and PAPER PRESENTATION: Each student will be responsible for one review paper of a topic in late Neoproterozoic and/or Phanerozoic life-abiotic interactions, summarizing and synthesizing the current literature. Topics must be discussed with the instructor by 4/3. Papers are due on 5/8. Details on the paper length, style, format, etc. will be provided in a separate handout. Additionally, each student will be asked to present their paper as a 10-15 minute talk on 5/13.

Academic integrity: The University of Maryland has a nationally recognized Code of Academic Integrity, administered by the Student Honor Council. This Code sets standards for academic integrity at Maryland for all undergraduate and graduate students. As a student you are responsible for upholding these standards for this course. It is very important for you to be aware of the consequences of cheating, fabrication, facilitation, and plagiarism. For more information on the Code of Academic Integrity or the Student Honor Council, please visit

The University of Maryland is one of a small number of universities with a student-administered Honors Code and an Honors Pledge, available on the web at† The code prohibits students from cheating on exams, plagiarizing papers, submitting the same paper for credit in two courses without authorization, buying papers, submitting fraudulent documents, and forging signatures.† The University Senate encourages instructors to ask students to write the following signed statement on each examination or assignment:† "I pledge on my honor that I have not given or received any unauthorized assistance on this examination (or assignment)."

Academic Accommodations:† If you have a documented disability, you should contact Disability Support Services 0126 Shoemaker Hall.† Each semester students with documented disabilities should apply to DSS for accommodation request forms which you can provide to your professors as proof of your eligibility for accommodations.† The rules for eligibility and the types of accommodations a student may request can be reviewed on the DSS web site at

Religious Observances:† The University System of Maryland policy provides that students should not be penalized because of observances of their religious beliefs, students shall be given an opportunity, whenever feasible, to make up within a reasonable time any academic assignment that is missed due to individual participation in religious observances.† It is the responsibility of the student to inform the instructor of any intended absences for religious observances in advance.† Notice should be provided as soon as possible but no later than the end of the schedule adjustment period (February 8).† Faculty should further remind students that prior notification is especially important in connection with final exams, since failure to reschedule a final exam before the conclusion of the final examination period may result in loss of credits during the semester.† The problem is especially likely to arise when final exams are scheduled on Saturdays.

Copyright: © 2008 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 professor teaching this course.


Date Topic
Week 1 (1/29, 1/31) Introduction; Overview of late Neoproterozoic and Phanerozoic history; Overview of Animal Phylogeny (with emphasis on fossiliferous taxa)
Week 2 (2/5, 7) Overview of Animal Phylogeny continued; The Problems of Molecular Divergence Dates; Overview of Plant Phylogeny
Week 3 (2/12, 14) What (if anything) is Macroevolution? What (if anything) is Macroecology? Habitat Theory, Turnover Pulse & Coordinated Stasis; Avatars and Guilds
Week 4 (2/19, 21) Rise of Multicellularity and the Garden of Ediacara
Week 5 (2/26, 28) Long Fuse of the Cambrian Explosion
Week 6 (3/4, 6) Cambrian Substrate Revolution; Ordovician Radiation and extinction; late Devonian extinction
Week 7 (3/11, 13) Colonization of freshwater and terrestrial realm and Romerís Gap; Rise of the forests; late Paleozoic terrestrial environments
Week 8 (3/25, 27) Permo-Triassic Extinction and recovery
Week 9 (4/1, 3) Triassic-Jurassic extinctions and recovery; Mid-Mesozoic marine revolution; Paper topics due 4/3
Week 10 (4/8, 10) Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction and recovery
Week 11 (4/15, 17) PETM; late Eocene extinctions and recovery; Spread of the grasslands
Week 12 (4/22, 24) Quaternary glacial-interglacial cycles
Week 13 (4/29, 5/1) Stability and Change of Ecologic Evolutionary Units; Mass extinction as a phenomenon
Week 14 (5/6, 8) Calcite vs. Aragonite seas and the rise and fall of reef communities; Evolution and atmospheres; PAPERS DUE 5/8
Week 15 (5/13) Student presentations; Future work in Phanerozoic history

  • Required and supplementary readings
  • Information on requirements for paper
  • References and Links

    Last modified: 4 April 2008