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Unit information: The Cambrian Explosion - the origin of animal body plans in 2019/20

Please note: Due to alternative arrangements for teaching and assessment in place from 18 March 2020 to mitigate against the restrictions in place due to COVID-19, information shown for 2019/20 may not always be accurate.

Please note: you are viewing unit and programme information for a past academic year. Please see the current academic year for up to date information.

Unit name The Cambrian Explosion - the origin of animal body plans
Unit code EASC30052
Credit points 10
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1B (weeks 7 - 12)
Unit director Dr. Vinther
Open unit status Not open




School/department School of Earth Sciences
Faculty Faculty of Science


This course provides an overview of the shape and structure of the animal tree of life from a zoomorphological, phylogenetic, palaeontological and geological perspective. The student will become familiar with the morphologic diversity underpinning the diversity of animals and the invertebrate fossil record. We will look at the diverse ecological strategies animals have adapted towards and discuss how these evolved and made an impact on Earth as we know it.

The main aims are to introduce and comprehensively review the following themes:

  • How can we reconstruct the history of evolution
  • What are the shape of the tree of life of animals and their ecology
  • The morphology and fossil record of invertebrate phyla
  • Geological and environmental setting of the Precambrian to Cambrian transition

Formative assessment and feedback will be provided on practical exercises.

Intended learning outcomes

Students should become familiar with and be able to:

  • Identify major phyla and characterise their diversity
  • Think of evolution in the context of phylogenetic trees
  • Know the phylogeny of major animal clades
  • Be familiar with the geological record of invertebrates
  • Know the geological history and investigate the interplay between organismal evolution and the geosphere

Teaching details

Lectures and practicals

Assessment Details

Exam 100% (2 hours)

Reading and References

There is no individual book which provides the necessary comprehensive overview. Individual chapters of the recommended reading will provide a good background.


  • Ruppert, Fox, Barnes. 2003. Invertebrate Zoology: a functional evolutionary approach.
  • Erwin and Valentine. 2013. The Cambrian Explosion.