We'll cover a range of topics in the study of ancient life, often with consideration of how we can use that to inform our understanding of life today. In brief:

  • We'll look at evolution from small to long time periods, and then use that to try and better understand the biosphere, and the impact humans are having on it.
  • These are exciting and important topics. Theodosius Dobzhansky said it better than I ever could:

  • As with any set of resources, we can't cover everything! Rather we dip into a bunch of things that I find really interesting. This results in a broad set of topics, for which I provide an overview just below – they build on each other, but not so much that you shouldn't start in the middle if there is one topic that particularly interests you.

Our pages range across palaeobiology and evolution … and 4,000 million years of time. They are as follows:

Evolution 101

This website is aimed at first year undergraduates, in particular those who have not covered evolution since high school. It provides an overview of a range of key concepts that are the building blocks that later lectures build.

If you want to start with the basics when it comes to evolution, this is the site for you!

Evolution 201

How did evolutionary theory develop? What is a theory? What lines of evidence support evolution, and where do its limits lie? How does natural selection act on scales from DNA, through populations, to species? Here we cover these topics, and more.

This website, and all subsequent ones, are aimed at second year undergraduates.


Everything alive on Earth shares a common ancestor. We're all related. Phylogenetics is the field by which we try and derive the tree of life, i.e. uncover evolutionary relationships. Here we'll explore phylogenies (evolutionary trees), how we can build them, and how we should interpret them. We'll also explore their uses and their limitations.


Evolution occurs on different scales, and in this session we'll cover the fundamentals of evolution over large timescales. Think of it as a low down on the patterns and processes of evolution as they play out over 100,000s to millions of years.

Milestones in evolution

A brief history of life as we know it. This site covers evolutionary milestones in the first 3000-million years of evolution, including: early earth, the origin of life and abiogenesis; early evolution and the last universal common ancestor, then splits between Archaea and Bacteria; the great oxygenation event; eukaryotes, and their origin through endosymbiosis; the origins of sexual reproduction; the evolution of multicellularity; Ediacaran fossils - their affinities and taphonomy; the origin of animals in the Cambrian explosion.

Evolution of terrestrial life

The terrestrialisation of life is a major topic! This site provides a low down on how and when life moved from the sea to the land, the challenges it faced, and the evolutionary events that have happened since.


Here we chart the history of extinctions over geological time, and dig into their impact on evolution. We’ll meet the causes of extinctions, mass extinctions, and subsequent recoveries and surviving taxa. Plus we meet the big five mass extinctions. Sadly, we conclude by looking at the sixth, currently occurring mass extinction, and compare this with the geological record of comparable events.


Here we meet some principles of palaeoecology, including things such as niches, gradients and controls to biotic distribution. We also dig into statistical approaches to biodiversity in deep time, and highlight the possible impact of fossil biases and preservation on palaeoecological conclusions. We study how ecology interacts with environment, and thus why fossils can tell us about past environments and ultimately climates.

Conservation palaeobiology

Conservation palaeobiology is a new and fast-developing field – by thinking about the geological and fossil records, we can understand and hopefully address current problems in conserving biodiversity and ecosystem services. Here we introduce some key considerations in the field through some cool case studies.


Life is distributed across the globe, and in this site we consider the patterns we see in species and ecosystems. We cover both those present on Earth today, but also those that we can reconstruct in geological time. It’s super cool.


Each site covers a single topic. You can learn about that topic via a series of videos, each of which provide information in small(ish) chunks. Alongside these there are quizzes which allow you to test your understanding, and a few other bits and pieces depending on the course. Each also has some bonus materials that often cover specific, super cool, elements of a topic in more depth.

On the odd occasion, we'll need to look at some neat fossils. Given these are all websites, we'll do so using the wonders of technology! I've put an example below.

Below you should be able to see a 3D model of a fossils, in this case a trilobite. Clicking on it will load a 3D model, and then you can click and drag to rotate it. Give it a shot!

Since you're here, I'll assume you're interested in fossils - this magnificent arthropod is the trilobite Eldredgeops crassituberculata from the Middle Devonian (~390 Ma) Silica Formation of Ohio. Longest dimension of specimen is approximately 5 cm. Source.

Questions? Feedback?

If you have any, you are welcome to contact me. Feedback is also always welcome – there is a lot of content here, and I am certain that despite my best efforts, occasional mistakes have slipped through.