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This subject explores the vast diversity of life that has inhabited planet Earth throughout its 4.5 billion year history and biology’s dynamic role in shaping Earth’s environments; from the inhospitable early Earth to the modern world we see around us. From the perspectives of energy flow, metabolism, species-species interactions, and evolutionary innovation, we explore the origin of life, photosynthesis and the oxygenation of the atmosphere, biogeochemical cycles, and life in extreme environments. Using paleontological principles we unravel the vast amount of information contained within fossils, including: paleoenvironmental reconstruction based on microfossil compositions; and broad evolutionary patterns of speciation and extinction spanning the appearance of the first biomineralized tissues half a billion years ago, to the rise and fall of dinosaurs and mammalian megafauna. The topics covered in this course also provide insight into a range of problems in the energy, minerals and environmental industry sectors.
Intended learning outcomes
On completion of this subject you will be able to:
- Explain the evolutionary history of life on Earth and the evidence used to infer this history
- Explain how biogeochemical cycles shape Earth's climate on the modern Earth, and on geologic timescales
- Describe and explain how ecological niches arise and impact the distribution and diversity of life on Earth
- Identify, explain and interpret fossil distributions, and their applications, including the controls on extinction
- Predict the distribution of dominant metabolisms using energetic considerations
- Apply skills for identifying and describing fossils in the field or in the laboratory
- Document and present an advanced synthesis of the use of at least one group of fossils or biogeochemical system
On completion of this subject students should have developed the following generic skills:
- Critical thinking skills: an ability to assimilate and critically evaluate new knowledge from the literature
- Communication skills: capacity to to communicate subject knowledge to a broad audience
- Problem solving skills: ability to integrate knowledge and skills from different scientific disciplines to address complex problems using a range of interdisciplinary approaches.
Last updated: 14 September 2023