Dinosaur at Klein Welka (South of Berlin), Germany

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GLY 532: Colonial Paleobiology


Colonial organisms are both common and important elements of the marine fossil record and the modern marine ecosystem. They are an especially challenging subject to study for paleontologists and biologists. Colonial organisms are formed from highly integrated, asexually reproduced, clonal individuals and show distinct and unique biological features. They can be regarded as super-organisms, as a highly integrated society or even a unique kind of entity depending of the grade of integration expressed in the individual species or groups.

Clonal growth is common in modern plants, but is also variously expressed in a quite different way - in the animal kingdom, where hemichordates, bryozoans and corals (among other cnidarians) show colonial and clonal development.

Clonal growth patterns are especially important in interpreting the graptolites, extinct hemichordates that are considered the most important biostratigraphic index fossils for the Early to Middle Paleozoic (Ordovician to Devonian).

The class is supplemented with a one hours lab each week in which the students have the opportunity to examine colonial organisms, learn about their taxonomy, biology and evolution. The geological and paleontological application of certain groups of colonial organisms like graptolites, corals and bryozoans will be discussed in detail. Part of the labs consists on practical paleontological research.

Main Topics:

The Concept of Coloniality
The Individual and the Clone
Bryozoan taxonomy and evolution
Ecology of Bryozoans
The Cnidaria
Coral Reefs through Time
Graptolites and Pterobranchs


 A, B. Rhabdopleura compacta, pterobranch colony, showing fusellar structure.  C. Rhabdopleura normanni, pterobranch colony, light photograph of part of a colony.