Indiana University Bloomington
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G112 Historical Geology

P. David Polly
Department of Geological Sciences
Indiana University
524A Geology Building
1001 E. 10th Street
Bloomington, IN 47405 USA

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Vertebrate Geobiology is the application of biological principles and fossils to the study of earth history. This course covers vertebrate morphology, phylogeny, taxonomy, evolution, biomechanics, biogeography, and paleoenvironments, and stratigraphic history, with lab practicals that focus on osteology, functional interpretation, phylogenetic reconstruction, functional morphometrics, scanning, and analysis of data sets. 

[Download 2013 Course Syllabus]

Lecture 1 - Carboniferous crisis

Lecture 1 - The Carboniferous Crisis and an Introduction to Vertebrate Geobiology

Tetrapod trackways in Indiana, the Carboniferous coal rainforests, tetrapod ecological and phylogenetic diversity in the Carboniferous, changes in tetrapod diversity at the Moscovian-Kasimovian boundary, structure of the class.
[Download slides]

Lecture 2 - The Origin of Vertebrates

Characteristics of vertebrates, living deuterostomes, comparative deuterostome anatomy, fossil deuterostomes, Chengjiang site (early Cambrian), clades, stem groups, crown groups
[Download slides]

Lecture 3 - Introduction to the Vertebrate Skeleton

Layout of the skeleton, underlying soft anatomy, structure of the skull (chondrocranium, splanchnocranium, and dermatocranium).
[Download slides] [Amniote skeleton diagram]

Lecture 4 - Introduction to the Skull

Layout of the skeleton, underlying soft anatomy, structure of the skull (chondrocranium, splanchnocranium, and dermatocranium).
[Download slides] [Dermatocranium diagram]

Lecture 5 - Jaws and Teeth

Comparative jaw attachments and pharyngeal structure, jaw suspension types, tooth structure, tooth attachment types, tooth eruption, homology between scales and teeth
[Download slides]

Lecture 6 - Evolution and the Skeleton

Evolution as a process, species concepts, aspects of evolution, homology and analogy, relevance of development to evolution of morphology, three examples of evolution and development in verrtebrates
[Download slides]

Lecture 7 - Radiation of Marine Vertebrates

Phylogeny of early vertebrates, astraspids, heterostracans, osteostracans, placoderms, osteicthyes, geological time and sea level.
[Download slides]

Lecture 8 - Origin of Tetrapods and Radiation of Amniota

Phylogeny of early tetrapods; definition of Tetrapoda; evolutionary transformation in limbs, vertebrae, and middle ear bones; amniote clades and diagnostic skull features; synapsida, diapsida, anapsida; Permian paleogeography; Permian-Triassic extinction
[Download slides]

Lecture 9 - Mesozoic Reptilia

Phylogeny of reptilia; icthyosaurs, turtles, plesiosaurs, lepidosaurs and Sphenodon, dinosauria, Permian-Triassic extinction
[Download slides]

Lecture 10 - Mesozoic Birds and Mammals

Origin of birds and mammals, loss of teeth, synapomorhpies of birds and mammals, Mesozoic diversity of birds and mammals.
[Download slides]

Lecture 11 - The K/P Extinction and Radiation of Placental Mammals

Asteroid impact, other factors in the extinction, taxa hit hardest, radiation of placental mammals, tribosphenic dentition, evolution of whales.
[Download slides]

Lecture 12 - Cenozoic climatic and environmental change

Earth's modern climate system (Hadly cells, ocean currents, land connection, latitudinal temperature gradient), global mean annual temperature through the Cenozoic, Paleogene climate and ecosystems, arctic floras, traits and ecometrics, Titanoboa
[Download slides]

Lecture 13 - Functional morphology and paleobiology

Vertebrate locomotion, balance, levers, force, power, work, joints, muscle attachments, stance, limb segment ratios, critical evaluation of fossil reconstructions.
[Download slides]

Lecture 14 - Histology and geochemistry of bone and teeth

Structure and development of bones and teeth, haversian systems, histology and bone growth, changes in growth rates in archosaurs, stable istope geochemistry, collagen, trophic levels from geochemical data
[Download slides]

Lecture 15 - Phylogeny Reconstruction

Reading phylogenetic trees, conventions for representing character evolution on trees, characters and character states, types of phylogeny reconstruction, introduction to the parsimony method, polarizing characters, outgroup comparisons, tree support, tree resolution.
[Download slides]

Lecture 16 - The Vertebrate Fossil Record

Taphonomy, types of preservation of fossil vertebrates, characteristics of vertebrate assemblages, vertebrate depositional environments, ethics and law protecting vertebrate fossils.
[Download slides]

Lecture 17 - Vertebrate Stratigraphy

Uses of paleontological data, geological time, biostratigraphy, issues with correlation of terrestrial rocks, regional vertebrate biostratigraphic zonation schemes, geological time and phylogeny reconstruction.
[Download slides]

Lecture 18 - Biogeography

Evolutionary processes and biogeography, vicariance biogeography, ecometrics, species distribution modeling.
[Download slides]

Lecture 19 - Diversity and Disparity

Adaptive radiations, key innovations, diversity curves, disparity analysis.
[Download slides]

Lecture 20 - The Anthropocene

Quaternary environments and vertebrates, Human evolution, Anthropocene, modern vertebrate diversity and threats, anthropogenic changes to Earth systems
[Download slides]

Lab 1 - Introduction to the vertebrate skeleton

Names of bones, openings, and structures of the mammalian skeleton.
[Download handout] [Latin and Greek Roots]

Lab 2 - Osteology of sharks, bony fish, amphibians

Skull and skeleton of selected vertebrate taxa. [Download handout] [Dermatocranium diagram]

Lab 3 - Osteology of reptiles, mammals and birds

Skull and skeleton of selected vertebrate taxa, with emphasis on bone homologies and skull openings. [Download handout]

Lab 4 - Fossil "fishes"

Non-tetrapod marine vertebrates, including conodonts, Harding Sandstone and North Vernon Limestone bone hash, heterostracans, osteostracans, thelodonts, placoderms, and osteichthyans.
[Download handout]

Lab 5 - Mammals and teeth

Diversity of placental mammals, molar morphology, tooth diagrams, tooth formulas
[Download handout]

Lab 6 - Mesozoic Vertebrates and DigiMorph

Introduction to DigiMorph interface, interpreting morphology from CT scans
[Download handout]

Lab 7 - Quantitative Functional Morphology

Mammalian locomotion, postcranial adaptations, torque and gear ratio, limb segment proportions.
[Download handout]

Lab 8 - Phylogenetics 1

Introduction to parsimony analysis, character descriptions, character states, character polarity, Mesquite and PHYLIP.
[Download handout]

Lab 9 - Phylogenetics 2: Tree Support

Mapping characters, tree support, consensus trees, consistency index
[Download handout]

Lab 10 - Geometric Morphometrics

ImageJ and MorphoJ programs, Osteostracan head shields, landmarks, thinplate spline diagrams, morphospace and principal components analysls.
[Download handout]

Lab 11 - Diversity Analysis

Calculating diversity curves using the Paleobiology Database
[Download handout]

Paleontology in the News

Holy Pleistocene Batman, the answer's in the cave [read more...]

Human settlements in Amazonia much older than previously thought [read more...]

Fossils found in museum drawer in Kenya belong to gigantic carnivore [read more...]

The Cerrado once connected the Andes with the Atlantic Rainforest [read more...]

These beetles have successfully freeloaded for 100 million years [read more...]

Coelacanth reveals new insights into skull evolution [read more...]

Is one toe really better than three? How horse' legs evolved for travel rather than speed [read more...]

Fossil and Ruins News from ScienceDaily


Guide to Latin and Greek roots
Bones of the dermatocranium
Amniote skeleton diagram
Phylogenetic defintions of taxonomic groups

Geological time scales

G404 Simplified Time Scale
International Geological Time Scale
Indiana Stratigraphy
Chronos Website

Information about Paleontology

The University of California Museum of Paleontology
The Paleontology Portal
Understanding Evolution
IU Geobiology Group

IU Natural History Collections

IU Paleontology Collection
Adams Zooarchaeological Collection
Glenn Black Lab of Archaeology
IU Herbarium

IU Paleo Collection on
IU PaleoCollection on FB

Online Fossil Occurence Data

Paleobiology Database
Miocene Mapping Project
Neogene Old World Database
Neotoma Quaternary Database

Online Morphological Data (including CT scans)

NESPOS Pleistocene Database
Digital Morphology Site (DigiMorph)
Virtual Zooarchaeology of the Arctic

Online Phylogenetic Data

NCBI Taxonomy
Molecular Data from Extinct Species

Research Journals

Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology
Palaeontologia Electronica
Acta Palaeontologica Polonica
American Museum Novitates
Bulletin of the American Museum
Journal of Paleontology
[list of VP journals]

Professional Organizations


The Palaeontological Association

(c) 2011, P David Polly