2023-2024 / GEOL0099-1

Biodiversity and extinctions


25h Th, 2d FW

Number of credits

 Master in biology of organisms and ecology (120 ECTS)3 crédits 
 Master in geology (120 ECTS)3 crédits 


Valentin Fischer

Language(s) of instruction

English language

Organisation and examination

Teaching in the first semester, review in January


Schedule online

Units courses prerequisite and corequisite

Prerequisite or corequisite units are presented within each program

Learning unit contents

Biodiversity and extinctions retraces the history of Earth's biodiversity through the climatic, geographic, and tectonic changes of the last ± 600 million years. This course investigates the drivers of the great radiations and mass extinctions, using a holistic approach. Contents:

  • Introduction: Biosphere-geosphere co-evolution; factors driving biodiversity.
  • Extinctions and radiations: concepts, definitions and biases; extinction-recolonization processes; conjunction of causes.
  • Origin of animal ecosystems: who, how?
  • The colonisation of land: who, when, what and where?
  • Analysis of ancient mass extinctions: what triggered the end Ordovician, end Devonian, Permian-Triassic, Triassic-Jurassic, and Cretaceous-Palaeogene extinctions? What were they consequences?
  • Do-it-yourself lecture: the Triassic-Jurassic crisis
  • Debate: the Anthropocene and the sixth mass extinction

Learning outcomes of the learning unit

On completion of this course, you will be able to:

  • Know the global evolution of Earth's ecosystems over the last 600 million years (palaeogeography, palaeoclimate, faunas and floras)
  • Integrate data from distinct disciplines of Earth and Life Sciences to reconstruct the history of the Earth's biodiversity
  • Understand the phenomena of mass extinction, adaptive radiation, biotic turnover, and geosphere-biosphere links
  • Detect the biases affecting geological and palaeontological data

Prerequisite knowledge and skills

Solid notions of geology and palaeontology are mandatory.

Planned learning activities and teaching methods

Most of the sessions will take the form of a two-hour lecture where active participation is required to understand concepts and identify the pitfalls and the complexity of geological and palaeontological data.

One 'do-it-yourself lecture' is organised to help student extract data from the lastest scientific literature and analyse a particular event in the evolution of the biosphere, the Late Triassic mass extinction.

The final lecture is a debate on the Anthropocene extinctions, organised at the University or in the Prehistomuseum in Ramioul, Belgium.

Two full-day field trips complete the course to illustrate key concepts and some events particularly well recorded in deposits in Belgium and Luxembourg.

Mode of delivery (face to face, distance learning, hybrid learning)

Face-to-face course

Additional information:

Face-to-face, lectures delivered in English.

All powerpoint presentations will be deposited on line on eCampus.

Recommended or required readings

The entire course is based on the latest literature and is updated every year. Students can ask Prof. V. Fischer to get the .pdfs of each of the papers used.
Interesting book, albeit a tad old (available at the Earth Sciences Library): Lethiers, F., 1998. Evolution de la biosphère et événements géologiques, Gordon and Breach Science Publishers, ISBN : 90-5699-123-X.

Exam(s) in session

Any session

- In-person

oral exam

Additional information:

Oral examination, two open questions. 20 mins of preparation time before the examination. The examination lasts 20 mins and can be passed either in English or in French.
Attending all field trips is compulsory to pass the exam.

Work placement(s)

Organisational remarks and main changes to the course


Prof. Valentin Fischer
Evolution and Diversity Dynamics Lab.  Département de Géologie (B18). Quartier Agora, 14, allée du 6 Août, B-4000 Liège, Sart-Tilman. 04 366 52 79 v.fischer@uliege.be

Association of one or more MOOCs