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In this two-part laboratory exercise, students explore the paleontological species concept by studying fossil rodent specimens and classifying them. This lab exercise follows a discussion of the species concept and is the first lab exercise in the course that gives students experience with fossil specimens. Part I: Students begin by studying casts of fossil mammal molars from which they construct clay models. This develops their ability to recognize the cusp pattern. Next, students are given 5 specimens that belong to a single species. First, they write qualitative descriptions of each specimen and then use an optical micrometer fitted to a microscope to collect data about molar length and width. Each group of students has a distinct species of the same rodent family, Ischyromyidae. Part II: The quantitative data is entered into a spreadsheet in Minitab, basic statistics are calculated and students plot molar length vs. width and/or molar area ln (LxW) vs. biostratigraphic level (if you want to include the time factor). (Class data is combined for the statistical analysis and graphing. An alternative approach, for a small class size, is to provide students with additional data points.) Each student pair must explain how they would classify each of the fossil specimens that they studied and the basis for their decision.
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