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2024/25 Undergraduate Module Catalogue

SOEE1120 Vertebrate Evolution

10 creditsClass Size: 200

Module manager: Prof Crispin Little

Taught: Semester 2 (Jan to Jun) View Timetable

Year running 2024/25

This module is approved as a discovery module

Module summary

- Fascinated by dinosaurs? - Intrigued by human origins? - Worried by whaling? - Want to know about how birds came to fly? Is so, then this module is for you. We will cover the major features of vertebrate evolution from the origin of the group around 430 million years ago in the Cambrian period to their present day diversity, taking in many of the well known (eg dinosaurs and pterosaurs) and less well known extinct forms. We will also examine how geological processes have influenced this amazing story of the vertebrate animals. No previous science background is required.


On completion of this module should have a broad knowledge of the broad sweep of vertebrate evolution from the first origin of the group in the Cambrian to their present day diversity.

This will include understanding:
- The origin of the vertebrates and what features are used to define them.
- How and when fish evolved from the early vertebrates.
- The evolution of the vertebrate jaw.
- How and when the amphibians evolved from the fish and moved from the water to land in the process of terrestrialization.
- The evolution and significance of the amniote egg.
- How and when early reptiles evolved from the amphibians and gave rise later to the Mesozoic marine reptiles, pterosaurs, dinosaurs, birds and mammals.
- Arguments surrounding the physiology of the dinosaurs.
- The evolution of birds and feathered flight.
- How and when mammals evolved, how they are defined, and the pattern of their subsequent radiation in the Cenozoic period.
- The process of, and evidence for, human evolution.
- How mass extinction events have altered the course of vertebrate evolution.
- How the evolution of the vertebrates was linked to changes of the positions of the continents on the globe and associated climate modification during the Phanerozoic time period.


- Overview; nature of the vertebrate fossil record; basics of palaeogeography; geological time and major biotic events.
- Vertebrate characters and relatives; vertebrate bone; first fossil vertebrates; early fish groups.
- Fish evolution from the agnathans to modern groups; origin of the vertebrate jaw; Orcadian Lake site of exceptional preservation.
- Origin of the tetrapods; terrestrialization; amphibian evolution; any site of exceptional preservation.
- Early amniote evolution; Permian and Triassic environments and reptiles; Permo-Triassic and Triassic-Jurassic mass extinction; Elgin site of exceptional preservation.
- Mesozoic marine realm; 'sea dragons' - plesiosaurs and ichthyosaurs; living reptile evolution - crocodiles, turtles and tortoises, snakes and lizards.
- Mesozoic terrestrial environments; dinosaur origins and major groups; saurischian dinosaurs - theropods and sauropods; sauropod size; Morrison Formation exceptional preservation.
- Ornithischian dinosaurs - ornithopods and ceratopsians, stegosaurs and ankylosaurs; dinosaur physiology - cold or warm blooded?
- Pterosaurs; K-T extinction event.
- Bird evolution and the origin of bird flight.
- Mammalian characters; Early mammal evolution and groups; modern mammal groups; monotremes.
- Marsupial origins and evolution; Cretaceous placentals; Post K-T placental radiation; Palaeogene environments; Messel site of exceptional preservation.
- Carnivores - terrestrial and aquatic; bats.
- Cetaceans - whales and dolphins.
- Neogene environments; ungulates - horses, rhinos, bovines and relatives; Rancho La Brea site of exceptional preservation.
- Primate evolution.
- Human evolution.

Teaching methods

Delivery typeNumberLength hoursStudent hours
Private study hours84.00
Total Contact hours16.00
Total hours (100hr per 10 credits)100.00

Private study

- 2.5 hours reading per lecture: 40 hours
- Revision: 44 hours.

Opportunities for Formative Feedback

Practice exams available

Methods of assessment

Exam typeExam duration% of formal assessment
Standard exam (closed essays, MCQs etc)1 hr 30 mins100.00
Total percentage (Assessment Exams)100.00

Normally resits will be assessed by the same methodology as the first attempt, unless otherwise stated

Reading list

The reading list is available from the Library website

Last updated: 29/04/2024 16:20:30


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