Stratigraphic Paleontology

A.Y. 2021/2022
Overall hours
Learning objectives
The course is focused on how life may have originated introducing important group of unfamiliar organisms. Particularly the following subjects will be considered: explosion of life early in the Precambrian world; diversification of plants and animals on terrestrial habitats; mass extinction events and radiations; interactivity between the physical-geodynamical and biological components of the Earth.
Expected learning outcomes
The student will understand the origin of the world in which we are living by analyzing the origin of life and its diversifications. The up-to-date view of the major mass extinction events and radiations is focused on the comprehension of the strict relationships between the chemical, physical and biologic components and the evolution of the Earth. The student will also achieve the key role of the geologic processes in global changes resulted from plate tectonic movements.
Course syllabus and organization

Single session

Lesson period
First semester
Lectures and laboratory practice with Microsoft Teams
Course syllabus
Fossils in time and space: lithostratigraphy, biostratigraphy, chronostratigraphy, paleoecology, paleobiogeography.
Taphonomy and the quality of the fossil record.
The evolutionary process and the fossil record: speciation, macroevolution, diversity.
Scientific models of the origin of life: spontaneous generation, extraterrestrial origins, biochemical model, hydrothermal model.
Evidence for the origin of life: the Early Precambrian world, the great oxygenation event, the universal tree of life, Precambrian Prokaryotes (cyanobacteria, stromatolites), biomarkers.
Empire of the Eukaryotes: characters, multicellularity and sex, architecture, evolution and diversification.
The first multicellular animals (Metazoan) of the Ediacarian fauna.
The origin of the Protists, unicellular Eukaryotes with a mineralized skeleton (acritarchs, dinoflagellates, foraminifera, radiolaria).
The Cambrian radiation: Metazoan diversification (brachiopods, bryozoans, echinoderms, mollusks, sponges, corals, arthropods), significance of early shells, Cambrian food webs, the origin of vertebrates.
Major Paleozoic events: Ordovician radiation (cephalopods, conodonts, corals, graptolites, ostracods, stromatoporoids, trilobites, crinoids), rise of fishes, evolution of reefs, early land plants and forests, terrestrialization of animals, origin of tetrapods (reptiles, amphibians), Carboniferous coal-swamp forests, rise and diversification of insects, origin of mammals.
Major Mesozoic events: marine revolution, origin and radiation of angiosperms, rise of birds.
Major Cenozoic events: radiation of mammals, rise of modern land plants, early primates, hominid evolution and neandertals.
Mass extinctions and biodiversity loss: definition, pattern and timing, selectivity, periodicity, recovery.
Highlights on the major mass extinction events: end-Ordovician, Late Devonian, end-Triassic, Permo-Triassic, Cretaceous-Paleogene, Eocene-Oligocene.
Causes of mass extinctions: meteorite impact, massive vulcanism, sea-level change, marine anoxia, global warming, global cooling, Strangelove ocean (decrease of the primary productivity in the ocean).
The evolutionary role of mass extinctions: disaster, recovery and something in-between, and implication for the future.
Prerequisites for admission
Basic knowledge of Paleontology.
Teaching methods
Lectures and practical exercise on fossils, also at the microscope, on selected case-studies.
Teaching Resources
Barsotti G., Gnoli M., Guerrini A. (2015). Storia naturale del pianeta terra. Pacini Editore.
Benton M.J., Harper D.A.T. (2009). Introduction to paleobiology and the fossil record. Wiley-Blackwell.
Briggs D.E.G., Crowther P.R. (2001). Paleobiology II. Blackwell Science Ltd.
Taylor P.D (2004). Extinctions in the History of life. Cambridge University Press.
Literature on specific topics will be provided during the course.
Assessment methods and Criteria
Oral exam. Evaluation criteria are based on: knowledge and ability to understand, the ability to apply knowledge, critical sense and independent judgment making, the ability of synthesis and interdisciplinary links, skills in communication.
GEO/01 - PALEONTOLOGY AND PALEOECOLOGY - University credits: 6
Practicals: 32 hours
Lessons: 32 hours
Educational website(s)