Skip to main content

Unit information: The Cambrian Explosion - the origin of animal body plans in 2023/24

Please note: It is possible that the information shown for future academic years may change due to developments in the relevant academic field. Optional unit availability varies depending on both staffing, student choice and timetabling constraints.

Unit name The Cambrian Explosion - the origin of animal body plans
Unit code EASC30052
Credit points 10
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2D (weeks 19 - 24)
Unit director Dr. Vinther
Open unit status Not open
Units you must take before you take this one (pre-requisite units)


Units you must take alongside this one (co-requisite units)


Units you may not take alongside this one
School/department School of Earth Sciences
Faculty Faculty of Science

Unit Information

This course provides an overview of the shape and structure of the animal tree of life from a zoomorphological, phylogenetic, palaeontological and geological perspective. The student will become familiar with the morphologic diversity underpinning the diversity of animals and the invertebrate fossil record. We will look at the diverse ecological strategies animals have adapted towards and discuss how these evolved and made an impact on Earth as we know it.

The main aims are to introduce and comprehensively review the following themes:

  • How can we reconstruct the history of evolution
  • What are the shape of the tree of life of animals and their ecology
  • The morphology and fossil record of invertebrate phyla
  • Geological and environmental setting of the Precambrian to Cambrian transition

Formative assessment and feedback will be provided on practical exercises.

Your learning on this unit

Students should become familiar with and be able to:

  • Identify major phyla and characterise their diversity
  • Think of evolution in the context of phylogenetic trees
  • Know the phylogeny of major animal clades
  • Be familiar with the geological record of invertebrates
  • Know the geological history and investigate the interplay between organismal evolution and the geosphere

How you will learn

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

Students who either begin or continue their studies in an online mode may be required to complete laboratory 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.

How you will be assessed

End-of-unit examination (100%) 2 hours


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. EASC30052).

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.