Centre for Philosophy of Science Applied Evolutionary Epistemology Lab

Bruce Lieberman

Paleontology and the Origin of Species: A Macroevolutionary Synthesis

Course description

Lecture content will stress the patterns and processes relating to the birth, death, and persistence of species; another significant focus will be the important contribution that the fossil record has to our understanding of the evolutionary process. To consider these issues I will use case studies from several different time periods in the history of life and spanning several different hierarchical levels of biological organization. In every case, the emphasis will be on formulating and testing macroevolutionary hypotheses. One major topic will be a focus on punctuated equilibria and the mechanisms that govern stasis. Other important topics will be how to use phylogenies to study the tempo and mode of evolution during key time periods in the history of life, to gain insight into the nature of evolutionary radiations, and to study levels of selection. Also emphasized will be how to use techniques from biogeography, especially phylogenetic approaches, Geographic Information Systems (GIS), and Ecological Niche Modeling (ENM), to study macroevolution in the fossil record. A critical aspect of biogeography and its relevance to macroevolution is the ability to consider the role that geological and climatic factors play in governing the evolutionary process. One of the commonalities emerging from macroevolutionary studies in general, and those in the area of biogeography in particular, is the significant role that earth history change plays in motivating evolution; also important is the role of geography in speeding up, or slowing down, the tempo of evolution. My short course lectures will also consider general issues in macroevolutionary theory, and will finish up with work in the area of astrobiology, including research considering large-scale patterns in the history of life.

Day-by-Day Program

Lecture 1: Applying Biodiversity Science to Paleontology

  1. Rode, A., and B. S. Lieberman. 2004. Using GIS to study the biogeography of the Late Devonian biodiversity crisis. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 211:345-359.
  2. Hendricks, J. R., B. S. Lieberman, and A. L. Stigall. 2008. Using GIS to study the paleobiogeography of soft-bodied Cambrian arthropods. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, and Palaeoecology 264:163-175.
  3. Myers, C., and B. S. Lieberman. 2011. Sharks that pass in the night: Using GIS to investigate competition in the Cretaceous Western Interior Seaway. Proceedings of the Royal Society, Series B. 278:681-689. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2010.1617.


Lecture 2: The Cambrian Radiation: Investigating Biology’s Big Bang

  1. Lieberman, B. S. 2001. A probabilistic analysis of rates of speciation during the Cambrian radiation. Proceedings of the Royal Society, Biological Sciences 268: 1707-1714.
  2. Lieberman, B. S. 2003. Taking the pulse of the Cambrian radiation. Journal of Integrative and Comparative Biology 43:229-237.
  3. Lieberman, B. S., and P. Cartwright. 2011. Macroevolutionary patterns and processes during the Cambrian radiation: Integrating evidence from fossils and molecules. Açoreana 7:15-38.


Lecture 3: Patterns and Processes of Stasis

  1. Lieberman, B. S., C. E. Brett, and N. Eldredge. 1995. Patterns and Processes of Stasis in two Species Lineages from the Middle Devonian of New York State. Paleobiology 21:15-27.
  2. Lieberman, B. S. and S. Dudgeon. 1996. An evaluation of stabilizing selection as a mechanism for stasis. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, and Palaeoecology 127:229-238.
  3. Eldredge, N., J. Thompson, P. Brakefield, S. Gavrilets, D. Jablonski, J. Jackson, R. Lenski, B. S. Lieberman, M. McPeek, W. Miller, III. 2005. The dynamics of evolutionary stasis. Paleobiology 31:133-145.
  4. Lieberman, B. S. 2008. Emerging syntheses between palaeobiogeography and macroevolutionary theory. Neil W. Archbold Memorial Publication, eds. G. R. Shi, D. McCann, J. Talent, and R. Peirson. Proceedings of the Royal Society of Victoria 120(1):51-57.


Lecture 4: Adaptive Radiations in the Context of Macroevolutionary Theory: A Paleontological Perspective

  1. Abe, F. R., and B. S. Lieberman. 2009. The Nature of evolutionary radiations: A case study involving Devonian trilobites. Evolutionary Biology 36:225-234.
  2. Abe, F. R, and B. S. Lieberman. 2012. Quantifying morphological change during an evolutionary radiation of Devonian trilobites. Paleobiology 38(2):292-307.
  3. Lieberman, B. S. 2012. Adaptive radiations in the context of macroevolutionary theory: a paleontological perspective. Evolutionary Biology 39:181-191.


Lecture 5: Evolution at the Grand Scale and Astrobiology: Taking a Broader View on the Environment, Evolution and Extinction

  1. Cornette, J. L., and B. S. Lieberman. 2004. Random walks in the history of life. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, U.S.A. 101:187-191.
  2. Lieberman, B. S., and A. L. Melott. 2012. Whilst this planet goes cycling on: What role for periodic astronomical phenomena in large scale patterns in the history of life? Pp. 37-50 in J. Talent (Ed.), Earth and Life: Global Biodiversity, Extinction Intervals, and Biogeographic Perturbations Through Time, International Year of Planet Earth. Springer, Berlin.
  3. Lieberman, B. S., and A. L. Melott. 2012. Declining volatility, a general property of disparate systems: from fossils, to stocks, to the stars. Palaeontology. Will be made available.