The Evolutionary Transition from Dinosaurs to Birds: Fossils, Genomes and Behavior

Semester: 

Spring

Offered: 

2023

Scott Edwards (Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology)
Freshman Seminar 21R    (spring term)       Enrollment:  Limited to 12

The transition of dinosaurs to birds is quickly becoming one of the most complete records of evolutionary change in the vertebrate fossil record. Additionally, it is an excellent model of science building on incremental discoveries and undergoing paradigm shifts as new data are collected. In this seminar we will explore the dinosaurian origins of modern birds through focused readings and discussion, as well as exploration of Harvard's excellent collections of dinosaur fossils and skeletons and specimens of extant birds.  The detail available in recent fossil discoveries, especially from China, allows scientists to make inferences not only about dinosaur morphology, but also about dinosaur behavior and even genomics.  At the same time, many evolutionary novelties that formerly were considered bird-specific adaptations, such as feathers and high metabolic rates, are now known to have arisen deep in the history of non-flying dinosaurs.  Despite their exquisite detail, the exponential increase in new fossils and data leaves scientists wondering, what in fact is a bird and what has driven their 90-million-year transformation from therapod dinosaurs?  In addition to weekly readings, we will visit the amazing collections of the Museum of Comparative Zoology, engage in virtual conversations with paleontologists from China and beyond and ultimately make a visit to the greatest dinosaur collection on earth at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.  The goal throughout will be to gain a greater appreciation of dinosaur diversity, ecology and behavior and to better understand the deep origins of modern bird adaptations. 

See also: Spring 2023