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Unit information: Palaeobiology in 2021/22

Unit name Palaeobiology
Unit code EASC20044
Credit points 10
Level of study I/5
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2C (weeks 13 - 18)
Unit director Dr. Cunningham
Open unit status Not open

EASC10001 Geology 1 and BIOL20001 Quantitative Methods in Biology


BIOL20018 Computational Methods in Biology

School/department School of Earth Sciences
Faculty Faculty of Science

Description including Unit Aims

The aim of this unit it to introduce students to standard and advanced methods in palaeobiological analysis. Each week a different methodology and its practical application will be introduced. Practical classes will support the delivery of lecture material and allow students to undertake their own analyses. The students will undertake fossil and other types of data collection in the field This exercise will introduce students to concepts of palaeoecology in the field and allow them to collect and analyse their own data integrating statistical knowledge via mandatory unit BIOL20001 Quantitative Methods in Biology and applying knowledge of R programming via mandatory unit BIOL20018 Computational Methods in Biology and integrating palaeoecological and other methods taught during the new unit.

Specific topics to be covered include:

Systematics; taxonomy and the reconstruction of evolutionary relationships – phylogenies, cladistics

The nature of the fossil record – sample, preservational bias

Taphonomy – preservational mechanisms, controlling factors, experimental taphonomy

Palaeoecology – the nature of palaeoecological data and the analysis of palaeocommunities

Evolutionary morphology – characterising form, morphometric approaches.

Intended Learning Outcomes

On successful completion of the unit the student should be able to:

  • Understand how fossil organisms are classified and their evolutionary relationships can be deduced.
  • Identify sources of bias in the fossil record, methods employed to account for sampling bias and their impact on our understanding of the diversity and evolution of life.
  • Identify temporal, lithological and tissue-related biases involved in fossil preservation; the various biological and environmental factors that control exceptional preservation of fossils and describe appropriate techniques for analysing fossil soft tissues preserved via different mechanisms
  • Understand the nature and limitations of palaeoecological data; describe how this data has been used to construct palaeocommunities, and how these communities are perceived to evolve through time.
  • Understand the relevance of characterising morphology and demonstrate competence in methods employed to quantify variation in form and their applicability to fossils.

Teaching Information

The unit will be taught through a combination of

  • asynchronous online materials and, if subsequently possible, synchronous face-to-face lectures
  • synchronous office hours
  • asynchronous directed individual formative activities and exercises
  • guided, structured reading
  • practical work in the laboratory
  • fieldwork

Students who either begin or continue their studies in an online mode may be required to complete practical or field work, or alternative activities in person, either during the academic year 2020/21 or subsequently, in order to meet the intended learning outcomes for the unit, prepare them for subsequent units or to satisfy accreditation requirements.

Assessment Information

100% coursework.

Coursework will involve detailed palaeoecological and statistical analysis of the palaeontological data written up as a scientific report (2,000 words).

Formative feedback will be given on an practical exercises.


If this unit has a Resource List, you will normally find a link to it in the Blackboard area for the unit. Sometimes there will be a separate link for each weekly topic.

If you are unable to access a list through Blackboard, you can also find it via the Resource Lists homepage. Search for the list by the unit name or code (e.g. EASC20044).

How much time the unit requires
Each credit equates to 10 hours of total student input. For example a 20 credit unit will take you 200 hours of study to complete. Your total learning time is made up of contact time, directed learning tasks, independent learning and assessment activity.

See the Faculty workload statement relating to this unit for more information.

The Board of Examiners will consider all cases where students have failed or not completed the assessments required for credit. The Board considers each student's outcomes across all the units which contribute to each year's programme of study. If you have self-certificated your absence from an assessment, you will normally be required to complete it the next time it runs (this is usually in the next assessment period).
The Board of Examiners will take into account any extenuating circumstances and operates within the Regulations and Code of Practice for Taught Programmes.