UNCG BIO 370 — Natural History of the Vertebrates

This course is one of the courses that fulfills the Biology Department’s “diversity” requirement for biology majors. We will learn about the diversity of vertebrate life, the major branches of the vertebrate evolutionary tree, some vertebrate structures and adaptations, vertebrate origins and relatives, and local vertebrate species that we can see right in our own neighborhood. We will place special emphasis on the principles of evolution and systematics that apply to all organisms, including vertebrates, and on basic phenomena of natural history that surround us every day when we are outside. In addition, we will work to develop some of the skills that every biology student (and science student) should have, including critical analysis of scientific and popular literature, recognition of word roots and understanding of technical terms, map reading and geographical skills, use of scientific names of organisms, and so on.

Meeting Times and Places

Lectures: Monday/Wednesday 11:00–11:50 a.m. in Eberhart 226.
Lab: Wednesday or Thursday 2:00–4:50 p.m. in Eberhart 215.

Students must attend both the lectures and a lab section. Because space in lab is limited, you must attend the lab section for which you have registered; you may not switch from one lab section to the other. Lab meetings will often go outside on local field trips, so you should always come to lab prepared for a long walk, whether or not one has been specifically scheduled (i.e, if nature presents us with a special opportunity on one particular day, we may take it without warning; nature is just wonderfully unpredictable that way).


Dr. Robert J. O’Hara (rjohara@uncg.edu). My office is room 118 in the Eberhart Building, and you are welcome to stop by any time; e-mail is a reliable means of contacting me, and I always welcome e-mail from students about our course or any other matters. I keep formal office hours Monday/Wednesday 12:30–1:30 p.m. in Eberhart 118, but am there much of the rest of the time also. You are always welcome to speak to me after class, leave a note in my mailbox in the Biology Department Office (Eberhart 312), or send me e-mail to discuss anything relating to our course or to academics generally. If you’d like to know a bit about my interests and other activities, you’re welcome to visit my webpage (rjohara.net).

Text and Map

I have ordered one text and one map for our use. They are only available from Addams Bookstore on Tate Street. I have not ordered any copies through the UNCG Campus Bookstore.

The text will be used selectively to supplement lecture and lab material; sections to read will be assigned as we go along. The map will be used on our local field trips to help understand basic concepts in natural history.

Course Webpage and Biology Club

The webpage for my courses (rjohara.net/teaching) has links to a copy of this syllabus, along with some general study tips for students in all courses. Be sure to pay it a visit. I also urge all biology students to join the Biology Club e-mail discussion group. You can sign up automatically from my courses webpage, and then you’ll be part of an ongoing conversation about matters biological with other UNCG students and faculty.


Labs will meet once each week for two hours and fifty minutes. Some lab meetings will be conventional exercises with specimens, learning anatomical structures and recording observations; others will be outdoor walks in Peabody Park and Lake Daniel Park; still others will be discussion sections where we drill, interrogate, challenge, and dissect published material and material from the lectures. If you are hoping to be able to sit in lab and just follow a canned set of instructions and then leave, you will be disappointed. Lab activities will aim to make you not merely memorizers of facts, but thinking scientists.


Two-thirds of your course grade will be based on the lecture section of the course, and one-third on the lab section. There will be three lecture exams, and each will count for 1/3 of your lecture grade. The lab grade will be based on a series of short assignments during lab, including quizzes and short essays. All students are expected to follow the University’s academic honor policy.


Attendance at both lectures and labs is expected, and in order to do well in the course you will have to be present at both. Students are responsible for any material they miss due to illness or other unavoidable absence. Unexcused absences from exams will result in a grade of zero for the exam missed; absences from exams will only be excused for serious medical or family situations documented in writing. Any makeup exams will be long and in essay format.

Expected Schedule

 Week of 20 Aug:  M/W lectures:  science and biological diversity
                  W/Th    labs:  grouping and species

 Week of 27 Aug:  M/W lectures:  species and vertebrate relatives
                  W/Th    labs:  (no labs this week)

 Week of  3 Sep:  W    lecture:  history of vertebrate natural history
                  W/Th    labs:  field trip and map practice

 Week of 10 Sep:  M/W lectures:  evolution
                  W/Th    labs:  museums and collections

 Week of 17 Sep:  M/W lectures:  earth history and paleontology
                  W/Th    labs:  major groups and traditional classification

 Week of 24 Sep:  M/W lectures:  biogeography
                  W/Th    labs:  more on major vertebrate groups

 Week of  1 Oct:  M/W lectures:  phylogeny
                  W/Th    labs:  introduction to historical reconstruction

 Week of 10 Oct:  W    lecture:  major vertebrate clades
                  W/Th    labs:  field trip

 Week of 15 Oct:  M/W lectures:  flight
                  W/Th    labs:  tree thinking and reading trees

 Week of 22 Oct:  M/W lectures:  adaptive radiation
                  W/Th    labs:  field trip

 Week of 29 Oct:  M/W lectures:  primates
                  W/Th    labs:  vertebrate phylogeny

 Week of  5 Nov:  M/W lectures:  migration
                  W/Th    labs:  field trip

 Week of 12 Nov:  M/W lectures:  dinosaurs
                  W/Th    labs:  critical analysis of published papers

 Week of 19 Nov:  M    lecture:  convergence
                  W/Th    labs:  (no labs this week)

 Week of 26 Nov:  M/W lectures:  vertebrate origins
                  W/Th    labs:  critical analysis of published papers

 Week of  3 Dec:  M/W lectures:  conservation and extinction
                  W/Th    labs:  field trip

 Week of 10 Dec:  M/W lectures:  current topics
                  W/Th    labs:  (no labs this week)

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