Fall 1997

GEOLOGY 405: Evolution, Extinction and Paleobiology

R. Hays Cummins | Interdisciplinary Studies | Miami University

Paleo Research Feedback Via the Web!

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Professor: Dr. Hays Cummins Lecture: 8-8:50 W/F ( Teaching Philosophy )
Office: Boyd Hall Rm 222
Office Hours: Thur 1-3
E-Mail: HaysC@miamioh.edu

In this course we will examine a variety of topics including evolution, astronomy, paleontology, taphonomy and rainforest ecology. From the outset, you will notice that much of the responsibility for the success of the course is on your shoulders. This includes the design and implementation of a semester-long research project, the development of a museum quality fossil collection, and student-led discussions on readings each week of the semester. We will take four class field trips to local outcrops. Exams will be take-home and discussion based

In addition to a course reader, three texts form the basis of student-led discussions: 1) The Song of the DoDo by David Quammen; (2) The Beak of the Finch by Pulitzer Prize winner Jonathan Weiner and (3) Extinction: Bad Genes or Bad Luck by D. Raup. These are provocative writings which should ignite our imaginations and fuel our discussions.

The research project is the most important single component of your grade. Your eventual success in this course depends upon your effort in this area.

Students Collecting Fossils at Our Favorite Outcrop

Schedule of Lectures, Assignments and Exams Readings & Field Trips

Getting Started

Why are Islands Important? Who was George Wallace?

Date Topic Readings
Introd. to Course The Song of the DoDo Chap 1&2
8/29 The Song of the DoDo Chap l, The Creative Mind, R
Discussion: The Fossil Record The Origins of Modern Science, The Song of the DoDo , R

Mon/Tues. switch week The Song of the DoDo (Chap3 &4)
9/3 - 9/5 Introduction to Statistics (up to p. I02)
Discussion: Frisbee Lab Measurement and Statistical
Methods, R

Statistics Continued The Song of the DoDo
9/12 The Song of the DoDo (Chap 5 & 6) An Overview of the Universe, R
Discussion: The Song of the DoDo The Big Bang, R
The Fate of the Universe, R
The Moon: Rosetta Stone, R
**Research problem ideas due

The Universe Revisited The Song of the DoDo (Chap. 7 & 8)
9/19 Gould/Astronomy Red Giants, White dwarfs, &
Black holes, R
Hertzsprung-Russel Diagram, R
Discussion: Astronomy/ The Song of the DoDo (Chap. 9 &10)
**Frisbee/clover lab due

Origins & Evolution of Life / The Song of the DoDo
9/26 The Song of the DoDo / Synthesis Mechanisms of Evol. Change, R

The Beak of the Finch

Discussion: Quammen & Weiner
Lab: Geology Time Analogy **Study Proposal due

Evolution & Natural Selection The Beak of the Finch (Part 1)
10/03 Finch (Part 1) Darwin, Origin of Species,R
Origin and Mult. of Species, R
**Time Scale Analogies Due

10/08 Species concepts/ Genetic The Beak of the Finch (Part 2)
Variation / Multiplication of Species
10/10 The Beak of the Finch (Part 2)

Origin and Evolution of The Beak of the Finch (Part 3)
Prokaryotes & Eukaryotes
10/17 Stat Analysis Exercise / Finch(Part 3)

Bad Genes or Bad Luck?

10/22 Chordate Evolution Bad Genes or Bad Luck (Chap. 1-3)
10/24 Finch/Raup/ Stat Anal Exercise
**Fossil Collection Due

10/29 Extinctions Continued Bad Genes or Bad Luck (Chap. 4-6)
Extinction Discussion **Statistical Analysis Lab Due

There have been five mass extinction events over the last 600 million years. Is it Bad Genes or Bad Luck?

11/5 Global Change Bad Genes or Bad Luck (Chap. 7-9)
Raup/Global Change (See Reader for Global Change)
Project Workup

11/12 Global Change Bad Genes or Bad Luck (Chap. 10-11)
Global Change Discussion (See Reader for Global Change)
Project Workup

Topics in Paleoecology

11/19 Community Ecology Paleoecology, R
11/21 Paleoecology

Research Project Workup

11/25 Thanksgiving Holiday!

Ecosystems of Interest

Colenterates & Coral Reefs
12/05 Research Symposium
Research Symposium

12/10 Tropical Rainforests, How a Rainforest Functions, R
12/12 Rainforests Continued

12/15 Final Exam Week

Besides your responsibilities involved in leading and participating in student discussions and doing a few instructor generated laboratories, you will be expected to produce a fossil collection and a research project. Descriptions of these two tasks are as follows:

Student Fossil Collection

Each student will compile a fossil collection. This collection is not restricted to fossils of any particular age, although it will likely be dominated by the locally available fauna. Specimens must be collected by the students themselves, purchased samples are unacceptable. The samples may be collected from any location (if you are on vacation somewhere, keep your eyes peeled). When possible, the specimens should be of high quality preservation (intact, unaltered, etc.). Trace fossils are acceptable.

The student on the left found four trilobites in one day!

The fossils will be identified to the lowest taxonomic level possible, preferably to species. The specimens will be curated in a professional fashion. Check the specimens in the paleo-lab and Limper Museum--the curation techniques used for the Limper Museum invertebrate collection, for example, should serve as exemplary models.

The following information should be included on the labeled specimens:


genus and species Felis domestica
larger taxonomic grouping Order Carnivora, Family Felidae
collection location Hwy x, mile marker x,Ox, OH
date collected Nov 25, 1994
collected by Homer Simpson
rock unit of origin Oxford Asphalt Fm.
age of unit Holocene
preservation type unaltered remains

In addition to the labeling of the specimens, a short guide to the collection will be written. This will consist of a series of approximately paragraph long descriptions of each specimen, detailing any additional information about it. Perhaps this fossil is indicative of a particular depositional environment, or known to only a narrow range of time, or is thought to play a particular ecological role. Basically, anything else interesting or noteworthy about the specimen should be included.

Each collection will contain a bare minimum of 30 specimens. The larger and more diverse a collection is, the higher grade it will receive. Quality of the presentation(labels and report) is also of great importance. This project is worth 20% of your final class grade.

To aid your efforts, a number of references and resources will be available in the paleontology lab for your use. These resources are not to leave the lab without permission. Some are the personal copies of the instructors, so please be kind to them. The Brill Science Library is also a valuable tool.

Student Research Project

Students, working in groups of two, will complete a semester long research project. The project will be a study of the regional Ordovician fauna, carried out upon a local rock outcrop. Each group will generate a hypothesis, devise an appropriate sampling strategy, and implement it. There will be a final research symposium presentation, in the form of both report and lecture, that will be given by each student research team.

The Research Projects Focused on this Ordovican Outcrop in SE Indiana

You are not expected to revolutionize the world's thought on the local fauna. The process of doing the study and your involvement in it are what's most important. I want your opinions and ideas supported by solid scientific technique.

There is much information available on the local rocks to be found in the Brill Science Library and World Wide Web. Here's a little something to get you started!!

Library Resources

Miami Link

Search Engines-Search Worldwide


Searching with WebCrawler(TM)


Educate yourself by reading as much as you can on the Ordovician fauna, but, remember, you are to use your own ideas, or ideas which were generated as a result of thoughtful discussion with your classmates. [ Brainstorming among your peers is not only beneficial, but expected as part of the process of scientific discovery! ] Accessing raw data is acceptable and even a wise thing to do (ex: previuos studies, formation description, age of units, characteristics of certain fossils, etc.).

That being said, here is what I expect:

A Problem Statement : A statement of the problem that the group hopes to answer with it's study, the hypothesis that you plan to test. This should be less than a page long, and is intended to insure that you are thinking in the right frame of mind.
Due: Week of 9/11-9/15

A Study Proposal: A statement of the reasons for the study, as well as the hypothesis/hypotheses that is/are to be addressed. This is where you tell us exactly what you plan to do, and we make sure that it all seems reasonable. This proposal should be a few pages long.
Due: Week of 10/2-10/6

Points to Consider:
Material Resources. One of the major challenges in science is to address importantquestions within the constraints of limited time and equipment. Much can be learned using basic field equipment. A little creativity can go a long way towards designing tools that will be useful in gathering data on any particular question. A list of research equipment available will be handed out in class. Students should consult with course instructors about any specialized equipment you might need.

Research Design and Analysis. It is surprisingly easy to collect data that, while seeming to address the question at hand, is fairly useless scientifically. The best way to avoid problems in research design and analysis is to spend the time in the initial stages of the investigation to think the project through as a whole. Procedures for analyzing data should be determined before the methods are written, not after the results have been obtained. It should also be remembered that most or all of the data will be entered into a computer for analysis. A well designed data sheet, one in which data is collected in a form that can be directly transferred to the computer, can save a great deal of time and frustration during the analysis phase of the project. Some principles of research design and analysis will be covered in class prior to the student generated labs.

New This Year! Research Feedback Via the Web!

If your're nervous about this project, you are welcome to E-Mail me and share your concerns!

We will use the WWW to provide a forum for feedback and to track the progress of your research. If all works as planned, it should be an interesting and helpful endeavor.

If you are ready, you can Enter Your Own Research Proposal or Discussion Topic NOW . Or, respond to a particular research submission! Perhaps you have some insights that can help! To do so, browse the works in progress by clicking on the research area of your choice. Then add your response!

 Research Submissions by Area:

 Research Progress Reports by Area:

 Search for Proposals Entered....

  Paleobiology Research Submissions

  Paleobiology Progress Reports

  since I last checked
  in the last 3 days
  in the last week
  in the last month
  in the last 2 months

Enter Your Research Progress Report

How is your research going? Are you on schedule? How many times did you sample this past week? Any problems? Concerns? New discoveries? How is your "Research Completion Plan" coming along? As a minimum expectation, I expect weekly postings. Please feel free to browse by clicking on the research progress area of your choice. If you are ready, you can Enter Your Own Research Progress Report NOW . Or, You can view all the Research Progress Reports !

Science Database

Search a Huge Database of links to paleontology, Other Science, Paleo Research Projects and Evolution

Enter some key words to search by:

Find pages with of these words and return results.

Detailed Results Search Phonetically Begins With Searching 

Format for the Study Proposal:

The exact structure for a research project will vary depending on the nature of the questions being addressed. The general format given below should be appropriate for most cases.

1) Question. Write a brief summary of your research question and goals of the study.

2) Introduction. Provide a short discussion of the importance of the question being investigated, including its relevance to previous research (as reported in science journals). List and discuss hypotheses that will be addressed in the project.

3) Research Design and Methods. Write a synopsis of the research design and a step-by-step procedure that you intend to follow. Include any background you may need to conduct the work, the intended methods to gain data should be discussed, including: sample size, sampling method, intended data processing and statistical analysis, etc.

4) Analysis. Include a brief summary of how the data may be analyzed.

5) Data Sheet Design. Raw Data Sheets must be included in the final text.

6) Bibliography. Include a list of sources cited in the above sections.

Final Oral Presentation: You've managed to impress some important people with your ideas, and have been invited to be a guest speaker at a symposium on Ordovician geology at the noteworthy Miami University. Prepare a summary of your study in a presentation format, not to take more than 15 minutes to present (you will be stopped if you run over much). Following your presentation, there will be a short question & answer/discussion time. There should be graphical display for all data and ideas. Your presentation ccould feature your WEB PAGES .

Guides to the Internet, HTML, & Web Design

It is recommended that you attend some of the guest speakers visiting the geology department during the semester to get a feel for the format for such a presentation.
Due : Week of 12/2

Final Web Submission: A polished report on the WEB detailing your hypothesis, methods, results, and interpretation is required. It should be in the scientific paper format that can be seen in science periodicals such as Palaios or Lethaia, for example. The report should tell me everything about your study, in a thoughtful, organized and concise fashion. All data should be presented in graphical or tabular display; with appendixes listing the raw data. The report will be the most complete statement of your study. In addition to the WEB format, I need your final report in paper form as well.
Due : Week of 12/9

The entirety of this project will be worth 50% of your class grade. The percentage grade breakdown of the research project is as follows: Problem Statement= 5%, Study Proposal 5%, Web Document & Written Report=25 %, and Presentation=15%. Don't put this off until the last minute, or you will likely be very sorry. More information will follow during the semester.

Required Texts:

1) Evolution: Past and Present Ecosystems --Course Reader, Oxford Copy Shop

2) Extinction: Bad genes or Bad Luck by D. Raup, Miami Co-op Bookstore

3) The Song of the DoDo by David Quammen

4) The Beak of the Finch by Jonathan Weiner

Evaluation: Participation is expected at all levels within the course. Attendance is mandatory during each student discussion period and scheduled lab: each unexcused absence will result in a 3% reduction (30 pts/absence) of your final grade. Grades will be based upon the point distribution shown below:

Academic Honesty
Please read part V, Sections 501-507 of The Miami Student Handbook onAcademic Dishonesty since the policy articulated pertains to all work done in this course.

Point Distribution:

 Research Project

  • Problem Statement
  • Study Proposal
  • Presentation
  • Research Report
500 pts


  • Tests/Quizzes
 200 pts
  Fossil Collection  200 pts
  Participation  100 pts
  Total Points  1000

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