Fossils and Extinction (special topics)
Brooklyn College ANTH 3010
Extinct mammals (Irish Elk - left; Diprotodon - right) on display in Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle
A modern lemur Propithecus verreauxi at risk of extinction in Madagascar
Course Description and Learning Objectives:
This class is meant to introduce students to (1) the history of evolution of multicellular life, (we’ll cover topics such as the evolution of air-breathing, jaws, limbs, and warm-bloodedness; the evolution of birds from dinosaurs, land animals from fish; mammals from reptiles and more); (2) the role of extinction as a historical process that has led to life as we know it; and (3) the causes of extinction at different ecological scales throughout history and modern times. The course will explore the possibility of differences between “normal extinction” and “mass extinctions.” It focuses on the role of environmental change in these processes: in particular, it evaluates the difference between rapid, mass-extinction-causing environmental change and historically typical environmental change. Using paleontological examples, the course will also evaluate the effect “newly evolved/introduced species” have on competition for resources among members of the animal and plant communities into which they enter. These examples will be compared to “invasive species” that humans have introduced to recent ecosystems using current and archaeological examples.
This course will help students to develop an appreciation for the age of the earth and how life on it has changed over time; a more sophisticated understanding of terms such as “environment” and “climate change”; a better understanding of the role of the environment in the evolution and extinction of species; how these processes have contributed to the evolution of the human species; and how similar factors affect human societies. It will provide students with a foundation to critically evaluate debates regarding conservation efforts, the existence of anthropogenic climate change and its causes, and the need/responsibility of society to minimize its impact on the globe and/or restore it toward some inferred earlier baseline or ideal.
1 final research/perspective paper