THE LINK BETWEEN DINOSAURS AND BIRDS
Most people believe that dinosaurs disappeared over sixty million years ago… but in fact, we see living dinosaurs everyday. We call them birds. This course examines the evidence linking dinosaurs to modern birds and investigates how scientists study the evolutionary relationships between species. Learners are introduced to the world's largest collection of vertebrate fossils and the American Museum of Natural History’s fourth floor Fossil Halls, exhibiting Saurischian and Ornithischian dinosaurs.
This seminar uses the method of classification called cladistics to define characteristics of a group of dinosaurs called theropods. Using anatomical evidence from fossils and living birds, a case is presented for birds being direct descendents of the theropod lineage. The course looks at the process of fossilization and how scientists look for, collect, and analyze fossils. Bird behavior, along with fossil evidence, is used to infer possible behavior (such as nesting and parental care) of extinct dinosaurs. We also look at the characteristics that make a bird a bird, and explore the bird family tree and the possible origins of flight. The course also examines possible explanations for the extinction of most dinosaurs 65 million years ago.
Scientist authored essays, a virtual exhibition tour, video, and web resources, enable students to explore geologic time, investigate clues to the origin of birds, and theorize about possible causes of extinction.
Student Learning Outcomes
In this course, students will:
This is a six-week online graduate course with an additional week for assignment completion. The course is asynchronous and does not have specific meeting times. Assignments and discussions change on a weekly basis. Students are expected to complete work within the specific week it is assigned.
For the current schedule of offerings, please visit www.amnh.org/learn/calendar
This graduate course is co-taught by an experienced educator along with a research scientist.
For current instructor information, please contact email@example.com.
This course requires the following textbook:
The Mistaken Extinction: Dinosaur Evolution and the Origin of Birds
By Lowell Dingus, Timothy Rowe
Hardcover: 384 pages; Dimensions (in inches): 0.98 x 11.32 x 8.84
Publisher: W H Freeman & Co.; (October 1997) ISBN: 071672944X
The following textbooks are recommended as general references but are not required.
The Evolution and Extinction of the Dinosaurs
By David E. Fastovsky, David B. Weishampel
Hardcover: 479 pages; Dimensions (in inches): 1.34 x 10.31 x 8.26
Publisher: Cambridge University Press; (April 1996) ISBN: 0521444969
Discovering Dinosaurs: Evolution, Extinction, and the Lessons of Prehistory
By Eugene S. Gaffney, Lowell Dingus, Mark A. Norell
Paperback: 219 pages; Dimensions (in inches): 0.75 x 10.12 x 8.99
Publisher: University of California Press; (April 8, 2000) ISBN: 0520225015
Technical support is available by calling (800) 649-6715 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
The American Museum of Natural History welcomes learners with disabilities into its Seminars on Science program and will make reasonable accommodations for them. Please contact email@example.com if you require information about requesting accommodation services. These services are only available to registered students with documented disabilities. Please submit requests at least two weeks prior to the start of the course.
Assessments are based on a detailed grading rubric developed for this course:
Weekly Overview and Expectations
Week 1: Theropod Anatomy and Genealogy
Dinosaurs have long been a subject of fascination for both children and adults. Part of their mystique is that they went extinct 65 million years ago. But did they? This week Drs. Mark Norell, Sunny Hwang, and Diego Pol introduce evidence that shows one group of dinosaurs did not go extinct. They are related to such well-known dinosaurs as Tyrannosaurus and Velociraptor, and today we call them birds. First, we look at the classification of this one specific group of dinosaurs, the theropods. Then we look at the general body plan of the extinct members of the theropod group and how their features illuminate their possible behaviors. And finally, with these clues, we begin to illustrate the link between birds and dinosaurs.
Week 2: Fossilization and Collection of Dinosaurs
Most of what we know about extinct dinosaurs comes from the evidence we find in the fossil record. So learning where to look and spending time in the field looking for fossils is a large part of any paleontologist’s work. What is a fossil? Where do you find dinosaur fossils? Once you’ve found one, how do you retrieve and collect it? What can you learn from fossils? This week we answer these questions and more as we look at the tools and techniques paleontologists use when they are in the field and in the lab. We also go behind-the-scenes in the Museum’s vertebrate paleontology preparation laboratory to see how a specimen is prepared.
Week 3: Theropod Biology and Behavior
Amazingly, paleontologists know a bit about how non-avian dinosaurs cared for their young, hunted for prey, and even made sounds. How do they know? The fossil record contains some clues—like the amazing specimen of an oviraptorid huddled over a nest of its eggs, similar to how a chicken sits on its nest and the way crocodiles build nests for their young. To study the behavior of long-extinct dinosaurs, paleontologists not only study the fossil record, but also get valuable insight from the behaviors of the living descendents of non-avian dinosaurs, birds, and the closest living relatives of dinosaurs—crocodiles. And finally we examine a controversial topic— were non-avian dinosaurs warm-blooded or cold-blooded?
Week 4: The Origin of Birds
We typically think of feathers, a beak, a wishbone, and a breastbone as the essential characteristics that define a bird. But in the last few decades, scientists have shown that these features aren’t unique to birds. How then do we describe birds as a unique group? What is their evolutionary history? We first examine each of the features that have traditionally been identified with birds, and then trace the evolution of birds through their 150-million- year history. During this tour of bird evolution, we highlight the most current knowledge about the features or characters that define birds as a group, and then discuss the link between some of these characters and the non-avian theropod dinosaurs.
Week 5: Dinosaur Extinction and Relatedness
Let’s now return to the mystery that surrounds the extinction 65 million years ago of what we now know was most, but not all, of the dinosaurs. The cause of the event is still shrouded in mystery. This week we look at some of the proposed theories to explain this massive extinction. In particular, we examine the evidence for the two leading theories—a meteorite impact and extensive volcanism. We look at the evidence that supports and refutes these explanations, and begin to hypothesize about how the group of theropod dinosaurs we call birds and other small animals survived this mass extinction.
Week 6: Living Dinosaurs and Their History After the Demise of Traditional Dinosaurs
This week we come full circle and review the evidence that links modern birds to non-avian theropod dinosaurs. We look at the tremendous diversity of dinosaurs and birds found in the fossil record. Where did the dinosaur lineage split, and when do we find the first characters for Aves? We know that a split occurred, but these days the divergence still raises more questions than answers. Maybe birds aren't as special as we thought.