E412/G512 Vertebrate Paleontology

Vertebrate paleontology is the study of the deep-time history and environmental context of vertebrate evolution. To understand the history of vertebrate diversification in the context of changing Earth systems is the aim of this course.  The course will develop critical skills for interpreting the vertebrate fossil record, including morphology, stratigraphy, and biogeography and for analyzing it using phylogeny, biomechanics, and synthesis of scientific research papers.

1. Overview of vertebrate paleontology

This lecture presents a broad overview of vertebrate diversity past and present. Basic concepts are introduced of phylogeny and "heritage" and "habitus", the mixture of ancestral characteristics and specializations that define an animal's way of life. 

Lecture 1 - Introductions.pdf

2. Overview of Earth history

This lecture will give you a broad overview of Earth history during the Phanerozoic (the last 541 million years), the period relevant for vertebrate evolution.  We will discuss continents, climates, major extinction events, and sea level.

Lecture 2 - Overview of vertebrate evolution.pdf

3. Vertebrate body plan

What is a vertebrate and how is it put together?  This lecture gives you an overview of the anatomical organization at a level that is common to all vertebrates.  We will contrast it with the body plans of other animal groups. 

Lecture 4 - Vertebrate body plan.pdf

4. Structure of the skull

This lecture is about details of the skull, including its bones, its openings (foramina and canals), and the soft tissue anatomy associated with them. The goal is to be able to look at a skull and decipher the living animal to whom it once belonged.

Lecture 5 - The skull.pdf

5. Diversity of the skull

This lecture focuses on how the structure of the skull differs among major vertebrate groups, how that variety is associated with their functional differences, and on the concept of homology.

Lecture 6 - Skull diversity.pdf

6. Structure of the skeleton

This lecture introduces you to the so-called “post-cranial” skeleton, or the all rest of the skeleton that sits behind the skull.  We will learn the bones and think about the muscles associated with them.

Lecture 7 - The skeleton.pdf

7. Diversity of the skeleton

This lecture compares the skeleton in different vertebrate groups, emphasizing that mammals have much simpler skeletons than most.  We will consider how the skeleton is related to the locomotion and ecology of the animal to which it belongs

Lecture 8 - Diversity of skeleton.pdf

8. Functional morphology

This lecture introduces you to the inference of function from form, including basic anatomical interpretation, biomechanical ratios, and computerized techniques like finite element analysis (FEA).

Lecture 9 - Functional morphology.pdf