Vertebrate evolution and paleobiology


Environmental and Regional Studies (3rd level)

Paleobiology and sedimentary geology (3rd Cycle)

Course code: DIP02
Year of study: without

Course principal:
Prof. Aleksander Horvat, Ph. D.


Workload: lectures 30 hours, seminar 30 hours, tutorial 30 hours, individual work 180 hours
Course type: modul elective
Languages: Slovene, English
Learning and teaching methods: lectures, tutorials, e-learning, seminars, practical training


Course syllabus (download)


Inscription to the 1st academic year.


Content (Syllabus outline):


  • Introduction to vertebrate palaeontology
  • Characteristics and origin of vertebrates
  • Jawless fishes (Agnatha)
  • Armoured fishes (Placodermi)
  • Acanthodians
  • Cartilaginous fishes (Chondrichthyes)
  • Bony fishes (Osteichthyes)
  • Lobe-finned fish (Sarcopterygii); fins evolve into legs
  • Amphibians – invasion of land
  • Origin of amniotes and thermoregulation
  • Anapsids, diapsids and synapsids; cladograms
  • Synapsids of the Permian; “mammal-like reptiles”
  • Permo-Triassic extinctions
  • Mesozoic marine reptiles; aquatic adaptations
  • Turtles
  • Archosaurs; crocodiles and pterosaurs
  • Origin of dinosaurs
  • Ornithischia
  • Sauropods
  • Theropods
  • Origin of birds (Aves) and their radiation
  • Mesozoic mammals
  • Cretaceous-Tertiary extinctions
  • Cenozoic mammal diversification
  • Eocene mammals and origin of modern orders
  • Oligo-Miocene mammals and changing habitats
  • The importance of biogeography
  • Pleistocene mammals
  • Pleistocene-Holocene extinctions



  • Vertebrate fossils
  • Characteristics of bones, dermal structures and teeth
  • Structure and histology of skeletal tissues in different vertebrate groups
  • Laboratory techniques
  • Skeletal growth; ontogenetic development
  • Comparative osteology I (cranium)
  • Comparative osteology II (postcranial skeleton)
  • Teeth; their form and function in different vertebrate groups
  • Life environments, depositional settings, and taphonomy
  • Using phylogenetic analysis



  • Special topics in vertebrate paleontology



Izbrana poglavja in članki iz/Selected chapters and papers from:

  • Anderson, J. S. & Suess, H.-D. (eds.), 2007: Major Transitions in Vertebrate Evolution (Life of the Past). – Indiana University Press, 1-432.
  • Benton, J. M., 2014: Vertebrate Palaeontology. – Wiley-Blackwell, 4th ed., 1-480.
  • Brett-Surman, M. K., Holtz, T. R. & Farlow, J. O., (eds.) 2012: The Complete Dinosaur (Life of the Past). – Indiana University Press, 2nd ed., 1-984.
  • Carroll, R. L., 1988: Vertebrate Paleontology and Evolution. – W. H. Freeman and Company, 1-698.
  • Cowen, R., 2013: History of Life. – Wiley-Blackwell; 5th ed., 1-312.
  • Hall, B. K., 2015: Bones and Cartilage: Developmental and Evolutionary Skeletal Biology. – Academic Press, 2nd ed., 1-920.
  • Schmid, E., 1972: Atlas of Animal Bones. – Elsevier, 1-159.
  • Thomason, J. J. (ed.), 2008: Functional Morphology in Vertebrate Paleontology. – Cambridge University Press, 1-296.
  • Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology (Society of Vertebrate Paleontology)


Objectives and competences:

In this course, students will receive a comprehensive overview of the evolution of the vertebrates through geologic time with emphasis on their phylogenetic relationships, palaeobiology, functional morphology, specific adaptations to different palaeoecological conditions and responses to environmental change. In addition to this theoretical part, practical training will cover various laboratory techniques, histology of skeletal tissues, comparative osteology, skeletal identification and studying fossil specimens of major vertebrate groups. The aim of this course is also developing students’ ability to answer scientific questions in the field of vertebrate palaeontology.


Intended learning outcomes:

Knowledge and understanding:

Students will:

  • gain a broad knowledge of the vertebrate fossil record
  • be able to identify and describe characteristics of the major groups of vertebrates
  • be able to interpret key events and transitions in vertebrate evolution
  • know current consensus on the phylogenetic relationships of major vertebrate groups (extinct and extant)
  • understand paleogeographic distribution of the major vertebrate groups throughout geologic time
  • Students will be familiar with the development of our understanding of how e.g. dinosaurs functioned as living organisms
  • have theoretical and practical basis for using phylogenetic analysis
  • be able to identify different skeletal tissues and elements
  • be able to recognise evidence of different taphonomic processes
  • know how to find relevant information and use appropriate research methods in the field of vertebrate paleontology



Exam – theoretical part (40 %), exam – practical part (40 %), seminar (20 %).