Recognize and understand the processes leading to the production of the fossil record and appreciate its importance as evidence for biological evolution. Encourage learning about the main groups of vertebrates and invertebrates commonly used in paleontology, also considering dissemination as possible goal.
Expected learning outcomes
Basic ability to recognize the transition of organic remains from the biosphere to the lithosphere. Acquisition of expertise about the main groups of animals (vertebrates and invertebrates), whose fossil record contributes to the knowledge about biological evolution.
The course is organized into three parts: A) Taphonomy: from the biosphere to the lithosphere. Composition of the principal organs with special attention to the skeleton parts commonly found in the fossil record. Biostratinomy: from cause of death identification to the burial of a body through the physio-chemical and bio-chemical processes that can change the morphology and disposition in the sediment. Decomposition, permineralization, carbonization, mummification of the soft parts; bioerosion, dissolution, dislocation, transport of the hard parts. Time and environmental conditions as the driving factors. Spatial relationships fossil / rock as indicators of autochthony / allocthony and of the depositional and burial environment. Fossilization s.s. (diagenesis): description of the physical and chemical processes that may change the composition and structure of the organic remains; dissolution, impregnation, recrystallization, replacement, fouling, bioimmuration Types of fossil deposits (Fossil-Lagerstätten), field research and preparation in the laboratory. The Trace fossils: systematics and significance of the main traces of biological activity The species in Palaeontology: definition and problems. A) Fossil Invertebrates. Description and classification of major features of the main invertebrate fossil groups: cnidarians, brachiopods, bivalves, cephalopods, echinoderms, and trilobites based on theoretical lessons and practical training. Their significance in the Earth Sciences context. B) The Dinosaur era. Presentation of the main groups of Mesozoic vertebrates to understand why they dominated the planet for nearly 200 million years. Dinosaurs: taxonomy and paleobiological issues (ethology, physiology, paleobiogeography). Pterosaurs: taxonomy, evolution of flight, tropism, living environments. Ichthyosaurs, pachypleurosaurus, nothosaurus, plesiosaurs, placodonts, mososaurs and adaptations to swimming. The evolutionary radiation of Mesozoic fishes. The origin and evolution of Mesozoic mammals. The appearance of birds.