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.

November 26 (Monday) —

1. The Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM) was yet another global climate event life had to endure after the KPg extinctions. What temperature changes are we talking about in the PETM?

2. What was happening with carbon in the atmosphere during the PETM?


November 19 (Monday) —

1. The element iridium will play a starring role in the early development of the modern Cretaceous extinction hypothesis. What is its significance in this narrative?

2. Where is the crater from the KPg impact?


November 16 (Friday) —

1. You’re good at this kind of problem, so think it through with me: Grazers like cows love grass. Grass didn’t evolve, though, to just lie there as food for grazers. How does grass defend itself against grazing? How have grazers evolved in response to these defenses? This is a type of coevolution often called escalation.


November 14 (Wednesday) —

1. Beautiful flowers come to class on Wednesday. Be prepared to tell me about the basic parts of a flower, along with their functions.

2. Flowering plants are termed angiosperms. What does “angiosperm” mean?


November 12 (Monday) —

1. We will talk a lot about plant seeds as being analogous to amniotic eggs. How, though, is a seed not like an amniotic egg?


November 9 (Friday) —

1. Early plants made a transition from watery environments to dry land in the middle Paleozoic. Much like amphibians, they had issues to solve to do this. Pick one problem and the early plant solution to it.


October 31 (Wednesday) —

1. I left this question hanging like ripe fruit: How does a mammalian four-chambered heart work? Why does it ensure efficient blood circulation? Diagrams will be helpful.


October 29 (Monday) —

1. Please draw a labeled diagram showing how a pterosaur wing was constructed. Magnificent flyers, these creatures.

2. Were pterosaurs likely endothermic or ectothermic? Evidence?


October 26 (Friday) —

1. We will start the day with ornithischian dinosaurs. Pick your favorite ornithischian and be prepared to tell me about its life habits (feeding, defenses, nesting, etc.)

2. Feathers can be used for flight, of course. What are other biological functions of feathers?


October 24 (Wednesday) —

1. There are two great clades of dinosaurs, the Ornithischia and the Saurischia. How do they differ in terms of pelvic bone structure? Diagrams will be helpful.


October 22 (Monday) —

1. Another mass killing is upon us, that of the Triassic-Jurassic Extinction Event. What was the scope of losses and who were the primary victims?

2. What is the most common suggested (and best supported) cause of the Triassic-Jurassic extinctions?


October 19 (Friday) —

1. Plate tectonics! Be ready to describe a spreading center (divergent margin) and subduction zone (convergent margin), with examples from the real world.


October 17 (Wednesday) —

1. What is distinctive about the skull of a primitive synapsid?

2. Please be ready to describe the pelycosaurs.


October 15 (Monday) —

1. Here’s a little research project for you during Fall Break: How did ichthyosaurs reproduce?


October 5 (Friday) —

1. What are some possible reasons why the first amphibians ventured onto dry land? During what period did this event take place? What problems would they have faced with this move?


October 3 (Wednesday) —

1. You are doing very well with these prep question definitions. Here are two more used in evolutionary theory: homologous structures and analogous structures. Please define each and be ready to give examples.


October 1 (Monday) —

1. Neoteny, specifically paedomorphosis, will be a critical part of Monday’s discussion. Please define neoteny and be ready to describe an example.


September 28 (Friday) —

1. The Greenhouse Effect is going to be a key factor in our explanation of the Permian extinctions. Be prepared to describe the Greenhouse Effect using a fully labelled diagram.


September 26 (Wednesday) —

1. Brachiopods were abundant in Ordovician seas. Be prepared to tell me about them, including what they look like and how they feed.

2. If you liked Anomalocaris, you’re going to love the nautiloids of the Ordovician. Be prepared to tell me about them, including what they look like and how they feed.


September 24 (Monday) —

1. We’re going to discuss the remarkable Burgess Shale of the Middle Cambrian. Choose one of these Burgess animals and be ready to describe what it looked like and how it fed: Anomalocaris, Opabinia, Hallucigenia, or Pikaia. Go ahead and do all four if you like!


September 17 (Monday) —

1. What are the evolutionary advantages of sexual reproduction?

2. If sex is such an advantage, then, why are there still plenty of asexual organisms?


September 14 (Friday) —

1. Just one topic for today’s preparation: Please be ready to define and describe a procaryote (prokaryote).


September 12 (Wednesday) —

1. What are lipids and what role do they play in forming cell membranes?

2. Please be prepared to explain photosynthesis in simple terms.


September 10 (Monday) —

1. Let’s keep this question from last week: what is a supernova?

2. This won’t be a quiz question, and we won’t spend long on it in class, but it’s interesting: What are the latest ideas on the origin of our Moon?


September 7 (Friday) —

1. Please be ready to define and describe a nebula.

2. Let’s also go to the other end of star formation processes: what is a supernova?


September 5 (Wednesday) —

1. We did this in class on Monday and will review again on Wednesday: What is the function of a ribosome?

2. What is the difference in functions between messenger RNA (mRNA) and transfer RNA (tRNA)?

3. In genetic terms, what is a codon?


September 3 (Monday) —

1. Let’s keep this question from last time: What is evolutionary convergence? What does it tell us about evolutionary processes?

2. What is genetic drift?


August 31 (Friday) —

1. Let’s drill down on wisdom teeth as a prime example of a human vestigial structure. Why are they now problems for most (but not all) people? Why have they persisted in humans despite the distress they can cause us?

2. What is evolutionary convergence? What does it tell us about evolutionary processes?


August 29 (Wednesday) —

1. There is a 50,000 year limit to dating with carbon-14. Why do you think this is?

2. Be ready to fill in the blanks in this systematic classification of humans:

Domain: Eukarya



Class:  Mammalia



Genus:  Homo



August 27 (Monday) —

1. Your first radioactive dating problem: You find a fossil bone with only 25% of its original carbon-14 remaining. The half-life of carbon-14 is 5730 years. How old is this bone?

2. Your second problem: You put 160 grams of an unknown radioactive isotope in a jar. After two hours, 10 grams of this isotope remain. What is the half-life of this isotope?

3. And now you’re ready for this one: A meteorite is found with a crystal containing 300 grams of lead-206 (and other daughter isotopes) and 100 grams of uranium-238 (parent isotope). The half-life of uranium-238 is 4.5 billion years. How old is this meteorite?


August 24 (Friday) —

1. We’ll start with an easy one: What is the difference between relative time and absolute time? Please be ready with examples.

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