Florida International University

Paleoenvironments Course Syllabus

3 credits


Prof. Laurel Collins


Fall 2013, Tu/Th 9:30-10:45 am, PC 424


Combined sections of:

BSC 4304 Environments of the Past

GLY 4660 Paleoecology

GLY 5108 Paleoecology and Paleoenvironments

BSC 5302 Past Ecosystems

Course Description - Overview of environmental changes through time, integrating paleobiology, ecology, sedimentology, stratigraphy, and geochemistry. Topics include local environmental changes and regional to global climate change of the past, synecology of fossils, paleobiodiversity, changes in communities over geologic time, sedimentary facies and environments, skeletal mineralogy, stable isotopes of oxygen and carbon, paleotemperature and paleobiogeography. 

Objectives - to learn and apply methods for determining how environments and climate on Earth have changed through time.

Learning Outcomes - an understanding of how paleoenvironments and paleoclimate change are studied in the field and lab, and major changes that have occurred.

Course Outline



Tu  Aug. 27

Introduction to the course

Th  Aug. 29

Sedimentary environments (Ch. 1)

Tu  Sept. 3 Activities 1: Sedimentary environments, last day to add courses or drop courses without paying a fee

Th  Sept. 5

Taphonomy and preservation  (Ch. 3)

Tu  Sept. 10

Activities 2: Taphonomy and preservation - MEET IN PC 448

Th  Sept. 12

Trace fossils and bioturbation (Ch. 5)

Tu  Sept. 17

Activities 3: Trace Fossils - MEET IN PC 448

Th  Sept. 19

Water depth indicators: fossil associations (Ch. 2, 6)

Tu  Sept. 24

Activities 4: Water depth indicators - MEET IN PC 448

Th Sept. 26 Activities 5: Review and practice questions
Tu Oct. 1 Exam 1
Th Oct. 3

Temperature & salinity: fossils, stable isotopes  Guest Lecturer (Ch. 2, 6)

Tu Oct. 8

Activities 6: Temperature indicators  - MEET IN PC 448

Th  Oct. 10

Nutrient & upwelling indicators: fossil associations & stable isotopes (Ch. 2, 6)

Tu  Oct. 15

Indicators of oxygenation (Ch. 2, 6)

Th  Oct. 17

Paleocommunities and diversity as ecological indices (Ch. 7)

Tu  Oct. 22

Activities 7: Paleocommunties and diversity

Th  Oct. 24

Activities 8:  Review and practice questions

Tu  Oct. 29

Exam 2

Th  Oct. 31

Paleobiogeography and distributions of taxa (Ch. 8) 

Mon. Nov. 4

Last day to drop courses with a DR grade

Tu  Nov. 5

Activities 9: Paleobiogeography

Th  Nov. 7

Global paleoenvironments through time, I. Diversification (Ch. 9)

Tu  Nov. 12

Global paleoenvironments through time, II. Extinction (Ch. 9)
Th Nov. 14 Activities 10: Paleoenvironments through time
Tu Nov. 19

Fossil terrestrial ecosystems  (Ch. 10)

Th  Nov. 21

Activities 11: Terrestrial ecosystems
Tu Nov. 26 The Ice Age
Th Nov. 28 Thanksgiving holiday, university closed

Tu  Dec. 3

Graduate student presentations (You are responsible for knowing this material.):

1) Catalina, 2) Andres, 3) Kimberly, 4) Maria, 5) Zoe

Th  Dec. 5

Activities 12:  Review and practice questions for the final exam

Tu  Dec. 10, 9:45-11am

Exam 3   (Exam time differs from the regular class time.)


Instructor  -  Prof. Laurel Collins, Dept. Earth & Environment, and Dept. Biological Sciences. Contact at collinsl@fiu.edu (preferred) or (305) 348-1732.  Office hours in PC 435 M & F 9-10:30 or by appointment.


Recommended textbook  -  P.J. Brenchley & D.A.T. Harper, 1998, Palaeoecology: Ecosystems, Environments and Evolution: Chapman and Hall, N.Y.  This book may be rented or bought from the FIU Bookstore, from $35-$88. Using the textbook for reference is recommended because lectures are based largely on the chapters listed in the Course Outline. If you do not take good notes or will miss a few days, get this book.


Grading  -  Final grades are based on the assigned activities (33%) and three exams (67%). Grades use the scale:  A = 93-100%, A- = 90-92%, B+ = 87-89%, B = 83-86%, B- = 80-82%, C+ = 77-79%, C = 73-76%, C- = 70-72%, D+ = 67-69%, D = 63-66%, D- = 60-62%, F = 0-59%. Each exam covers only the coursework since the last exam.

Activities: Class meetings are more informal and include work with specimens, discussions, written exercises and reviews for exams. There are 12 Activities days, with 3% of your grade earned for 11 activities days, so you may miss one without losing credit.

Exams test your knowledge of the information from class, including student presentations. Makeup exams and activities are rarely given, and only in extreme circumstances that can be well documented, such as serious illness, a death in the family, or a family emergency. Going out of town is not a valid reason for missing exams or planned activities, so if you have a trip scheduled for any of these times, do not take this course. 


Grading for graduate students  -  Final grades are based on the assigned activities (20%), exams (50%), research paper (20%) and short (12-minute) presentation (10%). The paper should address some aspect of paleoenvironments with 10-15 double-spaced pages including abstract, text and references, and excluding figures and tables. The paper is due on the last day of class, Dec. 5.