Vertebrate Evolution

Fall 2016 quarter

Taught by

Amy Cook
ecology, vertebrate biology
  • UG


At least one quarter each of college-level biology and college-level writing.

Evolution provides an explanation for the extraordinary biological diversity on this planet. In this program we will focus on macroevolutionary processes, specifically speciation and the evidence it leaves behind. In doing so, we will address several philosophical questions, including: How do we make claims of knowledge in an historical science such as evolution? We will investigate questions that may seem simple at first—what is a species?—but turn out to have myriad, conflicting answers. This complexity, and our attempts to discern the pattern in that complexity, will be our focus.

We will use vertebrates as our model with which to study evolution, reviewing the morphological history and diversity of this clade. Innovations have marked the history of vertebrates, including the origins of cartilage, bone, brains, endothermy, and the amniotic egg, which allowed for the invasion of terrestrial habitats. The transformation of existing structures to take on new functions has been another notable feature of vertebrate evolution from lungs into swim bladders, hands into wings, and scales into both feathers and hair.

Classroom work will include workshops and lectures in which active participation by all students will facilitate an enriching learning community. In weekly wet labs, we will study the comparative anatomy of vertebrate skulls and skeletons, and dissect cats and sharks. In the computer lab, we will use software designed for systematic character analysis, and students will generate and analyze morphological datasets.

Program Details

Fields of Study

biology environmental studies philosophy of science zoology

Preparatory For

biology, veterinary medicine, health-related fields, and evolutionary biology.


Fall Open

Location and Schedule

Campus Location


Time Offered


Advertised Schedule

First class meeting : Monday, September 26 at 9am (Sem II A1105)

Online Learning

Enhanced Online Learning


$10 for entrance fees to zoos and museums.


2016-11-15Fall fee reduced (from $100 to $10).
2016-04-26Fees reduced.