History of Life (BIOL 3433)

The earth is a vast museum. When Charles Darwin penned that phrase in 1859, he was lamenting the imperfect nature of the geological record. Scientific investigations of Earth history, however, were less than half-a-century old when On the Origin of Species was published, and fossils were not yet known from pre-Cambrian rocks. In the past century-and-a-half, enormous gains have been made in all aspects of palaeontology, with the discovery of troves of new localities (e.g. Mistaken Point, Burgess Shale), the exploration of fantastical biotas (e.g. Ediacaran fauna, Jehol biota), and the development of new technologies (e.g. isotope fractionation, CT scanning) that enrich our understanding of the life of the past. This course is a survey of the pagentry and diversity of life that has evolved, and become extinct, on Earth since its formation over 4.5 billion years ago, through the eons, until the appearance of humans in the Pleistocene.

Dinosaur Palaeontology (BIOL 4444)

Dinosaurian reptiles dominated terrestrial environments for nearly 150 million years (from roughly 200 to 66 million years ago), a time known colloquially as the Age of Reptiles. The largest creatures that ever walked the Earth were sauropod dinosaurs, and the largest carnivores in Earth history were theropod dinosaurs. Mesozoic dinosaurs evolved a profusion of morphological adaptations and interesting traits, some of which survive today in birds and some of which were adopted by mammals in the wake of the end-Cretaceous extinction event. This course surveys the origin and the diversity of the Dinosauria of the Mesozoic Era, with special emphasis on the shared derived features and the interrelationships of the major dinosaurian groups, and reviews interpretations of dinosaurian life from the early days of vertebrate paleontology during the Victorian Age up until the present day.

Evolutionary Theory (BIOL 4601)

If you enjoyed Evolution (BIOL 3601) and have a desire to dig a little deeper into the field of evolutionary biology, then this course is the right choice for you. In this “hot topics” class, we will go beyond the standard textbook introduction of evolution to discuss exciting, ground breaking, and often controversial topics within this discipline.  In doing so, we will focus on research questions tackled by some of the most prominent evolutionary biologists past and present, and learn more about the tools, techniques, and methodological approaches employed in this discipline. Lectures will provide overviews of our focal topics, while in lab sessions we will discuss seminal papers from the literature, debate differing opinions and interpretations, and together explore new discoveries and emerging topics of research in this field. Areas of coverage will vary from year to year, but will span such topics as: “Darwinian medicine”; “Using phylogenies to inform species conservation”; “Unravelling the mechanics of speciation”; “Finding the Red Queen in predator/prey interactions”; Molecular evolution; and “Group selection – fact or fiction?”. This course will also charge you with many of the skills (e.g. critical thinking, paper reviews, and oral presentations) required in graduate studies in the biological sciences.

Phylogenetic Systematics (BIOL 4603)

It is telling that the sole illustration to appear in Charles Darwin’s 1859 magnum opus On the Origin of Species is an evolutionary tree. Ever since Darwin, taxonomists have tried to represent the scope of evolution in graphical form. The most commonly accepted method of the past few decades is phylogenetic systematics, also known as cladistics. An empirical and evolutionary means to reconstruct interrelationships among organisms, the evolutionary trees that are produced are called cladograms. These cladograms can then be used to investigate evolutionary phenomena or problems of interest, including biogeography, speciation, co-evolution, adaptation, and extinction.