OEB/EPS 150: Exceptional Paleobiological Insights into Animal Evolution                                                   

Next offer: Spring 2021

Meeting time and location: Monday, Wednesday 1200-1315pm, Museum of Comparative Zoology 202

Course summary The fossil record offers a unique deep time perspective into the evolution of animals, and critically informs about the major events that have defined the composition and ecological dynamics of the modern biosphere. Complementary to the shelly fossil record consisting of biomineralized hard parts, the study of so-called “sites of exceptional preservation” (or Konservat-Lagerstätten) has dramatically furthered our knowledge of extinct diversity and animal evolution by capturing delicate morphological information that would be lost to decay under normal conditions. In this course we will explore the importance of exceptional preservation in the fossil record through an overview of major Konservat-Lagerstätten around the world and throughout the Precambrian to Mid-Phanerozoic, with particular emphasis on the evolutionary history of invertebrate animals. Our aim is to produce a thorough understanding of the inherent biases of the fossil record, how exceptional deposits break with these limitations, and the contribution of exceptional paleontological data towards reconstructing the origin and early evolution of the major animal groups.      

Requirements: Prospective students should ideally take at least one of the following courses or their equivalent: OEB 10, OEB 51, OEB 56.

What do students think about this course?

"Awesome content, very reachable staff, helpful. Fun labs." End-term feedback, Spring 2020

"The strengths of the course really are Javier and Sarah. Our class was so small that we got to know the professor and the TF and
each other. Javier put memes in his lecture slides and Sarah brought so many stories to lab. I appreciated the structure of the class
so much, every lecture followed the same format that made it super easy to follow.
" End-term feedback, Spring 2020

"Introduction to taphonomy was very helpful. Overall the first half of the course had a good pace and was very fun. Also appreciated
the links shared to websites and animations. Practicals were great too, and I really enjoyed also seeing some of the technology for
visualizing exceptionally preserved fossils. I also appreciated the diversity of papers available for chalk talks, I discovered some
things I really like more than others
." End-term feedback, Spring 2020



 OEB 213: Evolutionary Convergence, Mass Extinctions, and the Shape of Life                                       

Next offer: Fall 2020

Meeting time and location: Thursday 0945-1145am, Museum of Comparative Zoology 101

Course summary: Understanding the origin of major animal groups and the composition of the biosphere represents a core objective of evolutionary biology. While molecular techniques allow us to reconstruct phylogenetic relationships between living animal phyla, as well as track the developmental mechanisms behind their morphology, extant diversity offers an incomplete view of the evolution of these organisms. We will examine how processes acting through deep time affect fundamental biodiversity patterns, including topics such as the origin of animals, the rapid diversification of major clades, and the impact of extinction. Our aim is to convey a sense of how evolutionary thinking has changed over the past few decades thanks to a combination of conceptual and technical advances, and to instill a sense of the importance of the animal fossil record as a source of data with a uniquely historical component among the biological sciences.        

Requirements: No prior courses required, but a basic understanding of evolution is essential.

What do students think about this course?

Harvard Q Evaluations Fall 2019 Mean course score: 4.6 Instructor mean score: 4.8

"The study of fossils is much more interesting than I thought. Before this class, I didn't appreciate the diversity and fascinating morphology of early metazoans (and phyla other than Chordata) to the extent I do now." Mid-term feedback, Fall 2019

"The most effective aspect of the course is the discussion format. I have enjoyed the reading material and the lectures are useful, but the (sometimes digressing) questions posed by students in the class often result in the most interesting discussions where I learn quite a bit. The presentations have also been surprisingly effective in terms of knowledge gained since they have forced me to become an "expert" on a very small topic." Mid-term feedback, Fall 2019

"The instructor is very effective at conveying complex concepts in an easy to understand manner." Mid-term feedback, Fall 2019


We use a probability game to model how our understanding of biodiversity through deep time has changed over the last 50 years.

Game mechanics, Javier Ortega-Hernández | Online version development, Marc A. Mapalo | Background artwork, Holly Sullivan


 OEB 306: Invertebrate Paleobiology and Evolution                                                                                      

Next offer: Please note that this is a graduate seminar; feel free to contact Javier for availability and research opportunities on Invertebrate Paleobiology.