We have loads of interesting topics lined up, which range across palaeobiology and evolution … and 4,000 million years of time. The sessions are organised as follows:
Milestones in evolution
We start with a brief history of life as we know it. This session covers evolutionary milestones in the first 3000-million years of evolution, including: early earth, the origin of life and abiogenesis; early evolution and the last universal common ancestor, then splits between Archaea and Bacteria; the great oxygenation event; eukaryotes, and their origin through endosymbiosis; the origins of sexual reproduction; the evolution of multicellularity; Ediacaran fossils - their
affinities and taphonomy; the origin of animals in the Cambrian explosion.
Evolution of Morphology
How do the processes of natural selection scale from mutations, to populations, to species, to large-scale macroevolutionary change over geological time? We look into the theory, evidence, and limits of evolution and the processes that shape biodiversity.
All organisms on earth are related to each other in the tree of life. Phylogenetics aims to reconstruct those evolutionary relationships. In this session we explore phylogenies (evolutionary trees), how to build them, how to interpret them, their uses and their limitations. Also, we have a go at building one!.
Here we will chart the history of extinctions over geological time, and dig into their impact on evolution. We’ll think about the causes of extinctions, mass extinctions, and subsequent recoveries and surviving taxa. Plus we will meet the big five mass extinctions. Sadly, we’ll conclude by looking at the sixth, currently occurring mass extinction, and how this compares with the geological record of comparable events.
This session we’ll meet some principles of palaeoecology, including things such as niches, gradients and controls to biotic distribution. We’ll also dig into statistical approaches to biodiversity in deep time, and highlight the possible impact of fossil biases and preservation on paleoecological conclusions. We’ll study how ecology interacts with environment, and thus why fossils can tell us about past environments and ultimately climates.
Evolution occurs on different scales, and in this session we'll cover the fundamentals of evolution over large timescales. Think of it as a low down on the patterns and processes of evolution as they play out over 100,000s to millions of years.
Conservation palaeobiology is a new and fast-developing field - by thinking about the geological and fossil records, we can understand and hopefully address current problems in conserving biodiversity and ecosystem services. This session will allow us to introduce some key considerations in the field through some cool case studies.
Life is distributed across the globe, and in this session we’ll consider the patterns we see in species and ecosystems. We’ll cover both those present on Earth today, but also those that we can reconstruct in geological time. It’ll be super cool.
Here we’ll meet the field of taphonomy - the study of fossil preservation. In addition to our introduction, well learn about modes of preservation of fossils, processes of fossilisation and decay, experimental taphonomy, and things called taphonomic windows. We’ll use this to think about information loss and taphonomic bias, and how this might be impacting (if not accounted for) our understanding of evolutionary trends and concepts when we study the fossil record.
Evolution of terrestrial life
The terrestrialisation of life is a major topic! Here we’ll get the low down on how and when life moved from the sea to the land, the challenges it faced, and the evolutionary events that have happened since.