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Year 11 Biology Research Assignment

Palaeontological Evidence

Through the study of rocks and fossils we can see evidence of early life forms and their activities.

Palaeontological evidence is evidence gained through the study of fossils.

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The earliest fossils found were microfossils and stromatolites.

Microfossils are the most abundant and useful type of fossils, however they cannot be seen without a powerful lens or microscope. Microfossils, as the name suggests, are microscopic single-cell organisms, similar to the present day single-celled anaerobic prokaryotic organisms.

There are a great variety of microfossils to be found representing the plant and animal kingdom. These include pollen, parts of animals, such as the bony scales of some fish, are also classified as microfossils.

These fossils are very useful in reconstructing ancient climates, fauna and flora.

Stromatolites are the most abundant macrofossils of the Precambrian period. They are among the oldest fossils, some dating back more than 500 million years. Stromatolites are prokaryotic organisms, which, like plants, photosynthesize in order to create their own food. These bacteria are thought to have been largely responsible for the increase in oxygen levels in the earth’s atmosphere meaning that the UV radiation was filtered out, allowing living organisms to survive on land with aerobic respiration. Stromatolites are hard, dome shaped structures built by the cyanobacteria as they develop.

They reach a height of 0 centimetres and a width of about 0 centimetres.

Geological Evidence

Geological evidence is evidence gained through the study of rocks and the Earth’s crust.

With photosynthesis the environment of the earth changed from an anoxic atmosphere, with no oxygen gas, to an oxic atmosphere, which contains oxygen gas. The photosynthetic organisms reduced the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and released oxygen into the atmosphere. This oxygen did not go straight to build up the atmosphere and create the ozone layer, but rather was taken up by rocks. Red bed rock and ancient banded iron formations suggests when and how life originated on Earth as they are oxidized-taken up the oxygen that was first produced by the stromatolites.

Rock Strata- Fossils, which are evidence of past life, are found almost exclusively in the sedimentary rocks of the earths crust. These rocks form layers of strata that sometimes reach several kilometers in thickness. The sequence of these strata forms the geologic column. The fact that the lower layers were usually deposited before the upper ones, and are hence older, is self-evident. Rock Strata suggests when life originated on earth as it contains fossils. Through the Law of Fossil Succession we can see layers where no fossils are present demonstrating the beginning of life.

Using specific examples, make observations of different plant fossils and different animal fossils.

Animal Fossils


Central raised ridge along the back, which is flanked by flattish side lobes.

Three basic sections- head, body and tail.

The head, as demonstrated through this fossil diagram, was shielded and with a central hump in the middle.

Have eyes. They were also among the first known animals with efficient eyes, with lenses like insects eyes that could register movement and light from different directions.

The body, or thorax, is armoured and consists of a number of joint segments.

The tail, or pygidium, is fused segments articulated with the thorax.

Each of the segments sprouts a pair of limbs.

They lived from about 600 to 50 million years ago and dominated swallow seas in the Cambrian Period.

Eurypterid- Silurian Eurypterus.

Appendages with jointed pincers called Chelicerae.

Four pairs of walking legs.

Large “paddle-like” arms.

The upper view consists of the forepart or Prosoma, the hind part, comprising of 1 articulated segments, called the Opisthosoma.

At the end of the body there is a long tail, called a Telson, with a spine-like appendage at the tip tail demonstrating why eurypterids have been called sea scorpions

Bat- Icaronycteris- the first known bat. Its fingers held up skin-membrane wings as in modern bats, and like them it slept upside down.

The head contains a relatively big brain case, with a solid bony palate and lower jaws lacking an in turned angle.

It contained distinctive teeth and no marsupial hipbones.

It shares the common features of the other specialized placental and is dated to be in the Eocene Period, 50 million years ago.

Plant Fossils


Vascular plant

Main stem

Forked branches

Forked leaves

Fan-like spore-containing structures

It was a primitive “fern ancestor” found in the Mid to Late Devonian Period.


Vascular plant

Root-like anchoring organ-divided into four main branches

Forked branches

Narrow leaves

Small and large spores- these in cone like structures

Carboniferous Period


Vascular, flowering plant

Long, thin herbaceous stems

Short thin leaves

Early Cretaceous

How has an increased understanding of the fossil record impacted on the development of ideas about the history of life on Earth?

The increased understanding of the fossil record has allowed scientists and biologists to form set theories as to the evolution and history of life. The fossil record remains first and foremost among the databases that document changes in past life on Earth. Fossils provide the only direct evidence of the history of evolution.

With the increased understanding of fossils, through the use of relative dating, radioactive carbon dating and molecular biology, scientists are able to hypothesis the relative or absolute ages of fossils and the environments in which each animal or plant lived in. The chemical make-up of the strata the fossils are found in can tell scientists the balanced of gases in the ancient atmosphere and also indicates major events, such as eruptions or meteor strikes.

For example, by studying the rock strata around the continental margins, scientists have found that they match perfectly in many places. Deep-sea surveys, discovering mid-ocean ridges, have also been done, through the aid of technological advancements, showing that the rock that forms the ocean floor is increasingly older the father it is from the ridges. This indicates that the plates have been moving apart steadily for sometime. Fossil plants and animals found in Antarctica, including marsupials, are the same as those found in Australia ion rocks of the same age. These biological examples, when considered together with the geological evidence supports the idea that landmasses, such as Australia and Antarctica, were once connected. This information allows scientists to form theories about the way the earth was formed and how and why it has changed.

Through advancements in technology and understanding of fossils, scientists are able to observe evolutionary trends and developments in organisms, through general patterns from each era.

The construction of the fossil record, which is a timeline of fossils reaching back through history, has allowed us to piece together a picture of how life on earth evolved from the earliest single-celled organisms to the diversity of the single and multicelled organisms that have lived through history.

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