Preparation Questions

Before each class lecture I will post here a list of preparation questions. These questions are designed to prepare you for each new topic. If we have a pop quiz on the listed day, it may include these questions AND at least one surprise question from previous lectures to encourage  review. I recommend you thus have answers for them — at least in your head! — before each class meeting. You will have twelve pop quizzes by the end of the course, with the lowest two grades dropped. They count for a total of 25% of your final grade. If you are absent for any reason when a quiz is given (other than a scheduled college event you told me about in advance), your grade will be recorded as a zero. You may use any source to answer these questions before class. For a quiz, of course, you’re on your own. Since we don’t have a traditional textbook, you’ll find most of the answers by searching online.

May 3 (Friday) —

1. The last preparation question! Human evolution includes what is called the “obstetrical dilemma“. Please describe this dilemma and the evolutionary forces that lead to it.


May 1 (Wednesday) —

1. What features do hominins (or hominids) have that distinguish them from other primates?


April 29 (Monday) —

1. What features do primates have that distinguish them from other mammals?


April 24 (Wednesday) —

1. Monotremes, marsupials and placentals! Please be prepared to list the basic differences between these mammal groups. Be sure to have an example of each.


April 22 (Monday) —

1. We have more climate change events ahead of us as we enter the Cenozoic. One of the geological factors will be methane hydrates. What are they?


April 19 (Friday) —

1. Critical evidence for the asteroid impact at the end of the Cretaceous is the abundance of spherules in the associated sediments. What are spherules in this context?

2. Another line of evidence will be a fern spike. What’s this?


April 17 (Wednesday) —

1. The obscure element iridium plays a critical role in our main hypothesis for what caused the end-Cretaceous extinctions. What is the importance of iridium in this story?

2. We talk a lot about the victims of the Cretaceous extinctions, but who are some prominent surviving organism groups?


April 15 (Monday) —

1. The first angiosperms appear in the understory of gymnosperm forests — essentially the shady recesses at the bases of tall trees. What sort of hazards and disadvantages did they face in these places?


April 12 (Friday) —

1. Another difference between amniotic eggs and plant seeds is that seeds are dispersed away from the parent plants. Please make a list of ways plant seeds are transported before they germinate.


April 10 (Wednesday) —

1. Our first example of an early vascular plant will be the genus Cooksonia. Tell me all you can about this little beauty.


April 8 (Monday) —

1. Plants formally make their appearance in class this week. A key to their evolutionary adaptations will be stomata. What are stomata (or stomates) and how do they function? What advantages do they give land plants?


April 3 (Wednesday) —

1. Humans and all other mammals have a four-chambered heart. What is the arrangement of such a heart? What are its advantages?


April 1 (Monday) —

1. Please draw the bone structure of a pterosaur wing, noting the bones homologous with our own limb bones.


March 29 (Friday) —

1. Thought experiment today: What fossil evidence can you imagine that would support (or refute) the hypothesis that dinosaurs cared for their young like birds do today?


March 27 (Wednesday) —

1. On Wednesday we’re going to start on dinosaurs. How are dinosaurs defined as a group?

2. Carrier’s Constraint will be a factor in dinosaur evolution hypotheses. What is it?


March 25 (Monday) —

1. On our first day back from break we’re going to discuss the Red Queen Hypothesis in evolutionary theory. Briefly, what is this hypothesis? How did it get this name?


March 8 (Friday) —

1. The next reptiles we will discuss are the therapsids, a group of synapsids that includes our ancestors. What do we know about the stance (relationship of legs to the body) and metabolism of therapsids?


March 6 (Wednesday) —

1. On Wednesday we’re going to meet distant cousins: the pelycosaurs. They are characterized by a beautiful dorsal sail. What are the suggested functions of this sail?


March 4 (Monday) —

1. On Monday we will discuss that extraordinary reptilian innovation, the amniotic egg. Please describe the basic anatomy and features of these amniotic eggs. What did they enable reptiles to do that amphibians can’t?

Remember: Osgood Lecture on Tuesday, March 5, 7:30 pm, Lean Lecture Room (required) — “Invasive species, mass extinctions, and biotic radiations: lessons for today from oceans of the past” (Dr. Alycia Stigall, Ohio University).


March 1 (Friday) —

1. The hero fish for Friday is Tiktaalik. Be prepared to tell me all you can about this genus, including its age and bodily features.


February 27 (Wednesday) —

1. We are now going to start using a critical tool for investigating evolutionary relationships: homology. What are homologous structures in evolutionary studies? Please give examples.


February 25 (Monday) —

1. There are five features that define the Phylum Chordata (our phylum!). What are they?


February 22 (Friday) —

1. The Permian-Triassic Extinction was a massive, complex event. One of the clues to its cause is an extraordinary geological structure called the Siberian Traps. What are the Siberian Traps and how are they related to the mass extinction?


February 20 (Wednesday) —

1. The starring animals of the Burgess Shale are Opabinia, Anomalocaris, Hallucigenia, and Pikaia. Pick at least one and tell me what it looked like, how it likely moved, and how it likely fed.


February 18 (Monday) —

1. Trilobites are emblematic for the Cambrian, but there is another common group found only in the Cambrian — the archaeocyathids. Tell me what archaeocyathids looked like and how they likely fed.


February 13 (Wednesday) —

1. The next big step in the evolution of animals is the development of the coelom. What is a coelom? (It is pronounced SEE-lum.)

2. What are the advantages to an animal that has a skeleton? What is the difference between an endoskeleton and an exoskeleton?


February 11 (Monday) —

1. The first eucaryotes appear about 1.5 billion years ago, a good two billion years after our first record of life. Why did this step take so long?

2. The first animals appear 635 million years ago, long after the first eucaryotes. Again, what were they waiting for?


February 8 (Friday) —

1. Why is the ozone layer critical for most life on the surface of Earth? Start by describing the ozone molecule and then its effect in the atmosphere.


February 6 (Wednesday) —

1. An important concept as we discuss the origin of life is homeostasis. Please define homeostasis and explain why it is fundamental to organisms.

2. Cell membranes are made of lipid molecules. What are lipids and why are they so useful for making membranes?


February 4 (Monday) —

1. Today we’ll discuss the origin and development of our known material universe. Supernovae will play a critical role. What is a supernova and how is it related to the formation of heavy elements?


January 30 (Wednesday) —

1. You’re doing well with these preparation questions! For Wednesday, please be ready to define these terms —






January 28 (Monday) —

1. Monday we meet the magical molecule DNA. Be prepared to describe its composition and structure.

2. How does RNA differ from DNA in structure and composition?


January 25 (Friday) —

1. Vestigial structures are always fun. What are they in an evolutionary context?

2. What vestigial structures do you have?


January 23 (Wednesday) —

1. Let’s start our discussion of evolution with the most basic concept. What is natural selection? Please give an example of natural selection in action.


January 18 (Friday) —

1. Continue learning the Geologic Time Scale. (Here is a pdf version of our required-time-scale.) Your first quiz will include some random part of it.

2. Your first radioactive dating problem! No higher math required. Here it is: a meteorite crashes into Earth and is collected. One of its mineral crystals contains 1.5 µg of Uranium-238 and 1.5 µg of Lead-206 and other daughter isotopes. The half-life of Uranium-238 is 4.5 billion years. How old is this meteorite?


January 16 (Wednesday) —

1. Be sure to work on learning the Geologic Time Scale. (Here is a pdf version of our required-time-scale.) Your first quiz will include some random part of it.

2. Relative geologic time requires a simple concept: the principle of superposition. Please be ready to explain superposition, and relative time, for that matter. Google is your friend.



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