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Academic year
Didactic period
Secondo Semestre

Training objectives

The main goal of the course is to provide a solid basis for understanding the mechanisms and principles affecting palaeoecology of the main marine invertebrate groups. Several palaeoecological (autoecology/sinecology) and evolutionary aspects of the benthic communities are discussed. The main achievements for the students are:
• mode of lives, functional morphology
• fossil traces
• abundance, diversity and density; palaeoecological interpretations of the population life strategies
• abiotic factors constraining the communities: bathymetry, substrate, oxygen, pH, nutrients, and hydrodynamic energy

At the end of the course the student can deal with: 1) modes of life of the fossil invertebrate organisms, 2) palaeoecological analysis of the fossil assemblages and reconstruction of the geological and paleoenvironmental contexts, 3) ascertain the probable age of fossil assemblage (taphocoenosis/orictocoenosis) by means of compositional characteristics.


Previous attending of the Palaeontology course is mandatory. Furthermore, good knowledge of Geology, Stratigraphy and Sedimentology is required for a full understanding of this course.

Course programme

The course consists of front lectures (42 hours corresponding to 6 CFU) and two field trip excursions. Themes of the course (hours):
•Introduction; the main groups of marine invertebrates (larger foraminifera, bivalves, gastropods, brachiopods, calcarteous algae, corals; 10 ore)
•Principle of Taphonomy; Environmental factors limiting the distribution of marine organisms; Paleoautecology; Adaptive and functional morphology; examples (10 ore)
•Populations and communities, population strategies; Coloniality and symbiosis (8 ore)
•Hard bottom communities; Fixed Biological Indicators (FBI); Soft-bottom communities; examples of case studies (8 ore)
•Ichnology: fossil traces (6 ore)

Didactic methods

The teaching activites are organized as follows: frontal lessons addressing theoretical aspects; laboratory; two field excursions.
The literature-review oral presentation required for grading purposes (1) to practice synthesizing material, (2) to develop report-writing and presentation skills. This research will be a review and synthesis of peer-reviewed literature to address a paleontological issue of student’s choice. Students will also give a powerpoint presentation on their paper.

Learning assessment procedures

The aim of the examination is to verify to what extent the learning objectives have been reached by the student. The exam consists in two parts: oral discussion of theoretical topics (grading breakdown 20/30) and discussion of the literature-review paper and its presentation (10/30).

Reference texts

-Benton M.J., Harper D.A.T. 2009. Introduction to Paleobiology and the Fossil Record. Blackwell, ISBN 978-1-4051-4157-4.
-Briggs D.E.G., Crowther P.R. 1990. Paleobiology: A synthesis . Blackwell.
-Riding R. 2002. Structure and composition of organic reefs and carbonate mud mounds: concepts and categories. Earth-Science Reviews, 58, 163-231.
-Taylor P.D., Wilson M.A. 2003. Palaeoecology and evolution of marine hard substrate communities. Earth-Science Reviews, 62, 1-103.

Scientific papers published in International journals.