Morphological Systematics (BiSc 216)


Number of Credits: 3

Level of instruction: Graduate

Description: Principles and methods of phylogenetic analysis of organismal morphology, expanding upon the introduction provided by BiSc 210 (Phylogenetic Systematics). The course is organized around the concept of homology, and the testing of homology provided by phylogenetic analysis. The first part of the course surveys methods and issues in the identification and description of features (characters) that differ among taxa, including quantitative (morphometric) methods. The second part covers theoretical issues concerning developmental change, allometry, the fossil record, and the integration of morphological and molecular data. Laboratories will examine methods of observing, measuring, and imaging morphology, and morphometric methods of comparing shapes.

How often is the course offered: Spring Semester every year.

What is the average enrollment: 9 students.

How broad a student audience is served by the course: We anticipate an enrollment of graduate students from GWU (Departments of Biology, Geology and Anthropology) and Howard University (Anatomy Department).

Course Syllabus


1.) Historical foundations of homology
Aristotle, the scala naturae, and Geoffroy's principe des connexions

2) What is "similarity"?
Remane's criteria; topological correspondence

3) Homology and synapomorphy
Transformation and taxic approaches

4) Characters, character states, and character state trees
Recognizing nested similarity

5) Ordering character states
Recognizing degrees and levels of similarity

6) Character state independence
Character complexes, character correlation

7) Quantitative tests of character state distinctness
When are character states different?

8) Iterative homology - serial "homology" and duplicated elements
Intra-individual similarity

9) Functional morphology, behavior, and phylogenetics
Morphology in motion



10) Rooting and polarity
Determining the level of generality of homologies

11) Historical foundations of ontogeny and phylogeny
Von Baer, Haeckel, and the biogenetic law

12) Ontogenetic rooting
Using ontogeny to polarize characters

13) Ontogenetic "versus" outgroup rooting
Empirical comparisons of ontogenetic polarization

14) Developmental processes and phylogeny
Studying the evolution of ontogeny


15) The nature of the stratigraphic record
Telling time with rocks; stratigraphic ranges

16) Fossils and "total evidence"
The importance of fossils in phylogenetic analysis; combining or partitioning data 

17) Missing data and transformed data
The effects of unknown data on phylogenetic analysis

18) Cladograms and stratigraphy I
What, if anything, is an ancestor?

19) Cladograms and stratigraphy II
Ghost lineages and ghost taxa

20) Cladograms and stratigraphy III
Quantitative comparisons of cladograms and stratigraphy

21) Inference of soft structures and behavior in fossils


22) Morphometrics and homology
Introduction to quantitative measurement of similarity

23) Accounting for size differences in comparative biology
Evaluating similarities among organisms of different sizes - what is size?

24) Bivariate analyses
The allometric equation

25) Principal Components and Factor Analyses
Variances and covariances

26) Discriminant Function Analysis
Mahalanobis Distance

27) Outline data 
Fourier analysis

28) Landmark data I
Procrustes methods

29) Landmark data II
Thin plate splines