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SCIENCE IN THE 21ST CENTURY: BRINGING FOSSILS TO LIFE

Jason Moore, jrm@unm.edu

COURSE DESCRIPTION
The Earth formed around 4.5 billion years ago and the first, albeit somewhat controversial, evidence for life is found only 700 million years later! Living organisms have, therefore, been present for 85% of the history of the Earth and have shaped the planet in a myriad of different ways as life has evolved. Incremental, frequently infinitesimal changes in morphology over inconceivably long time periods have produced the millions of species that we see interacting around us today. Fortuitous confluences of geological forces have led to the preservation of evidence of past life for millions, and in some cases billions of years.

In this course we will get hands on with the fossil record to investigate: how life has changed during its 3.8 billion year history, from individual organisms to entire ecosystems; the processes that can lead to the preservation of organic remains over geological time periods; and many of the ways in which we can make inferences about biological processes from the limited, often biased information preserved in the fossil record. I hope this course will provide you with a firm foundation of tools and knowledge that you will be able to use to find the answers to any questions you might have about the history of life, and to discuss and reconcile many of the complexities inherent to understanding organisms for which there are no modern representatives.

READINGS AND TEXTS

Peer reviewed papers and sections from books appropriate to each topic discussed. 
Jurassic Park (How much of that which is displayed in the movie do we actually know?)

STUDENT REQUIREMENTS
Students must attend all classes and participate actively. We will learn many of the important paleontological concepts by direct application to real situations and real fossils.

There will be three field trips associated with this class: one to the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and two to nearby fossil localities.

Students will give an in-class presentations (in whatever format they choose) describing the major bio-events during one portion of Earth history.

The final third of the course will comprise a group research project where students will apply one of the approaches that they have learnt to a real fossil dataset of their choice.

 

COURSE FEE
None

ABOUT THE INSTRUCTOR
Jason Moore earned his Ph.D. from the University of Cambridge in 2006, with a focus on the reconstruction of vertebrate palaeoecological patterns. Subsequently he has worked on a large number of studies examining ecology in the past, both from recent assemblages (i.e. bones from the Yellowstone River in Montana and shells from Baja California) and fossil assemblages (from a range of time periods in the US and India). Dr. Moore is fascinated by both the complexity of teasing ecological information from the past, and by the amazing insight that can be gleaned with the correct techniques.