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Unit information: The Cambrian Explosion - the origin of animal body plans in 2021/22

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 2D (weeks 19 - 24)
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

The unit will be taught through a combination of

  • asynchronous online materials and, if subsequently possible, synchronous face-to-face lectures
  • synchronous office hours
  • asynchronous directed individual formative activities and exercises
  • guided, structured reading
  • practical work in the laboratory

Students who either begin or continue their studies in an online mode may be required to complete laboratory work, or alternative activities, in person, either during the academic year 2020/21 or subsequently, in order to meet the intended learning outcomes for the unit, prepare them for subsequent units or to satisfy accreditation requirements.

Assessment Details

End-of-unit examination (100%) 2 hours


If this unit has a Resource List, you will normally find a link to it in the Blackboard area for the unit. Sometimes there will be a separate link for each weekly topic.

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