Extinctions: Past and Present Course - University of Cape Town

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Program Description

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Discover the diversity of life on earth, the impacts of five past mass extinctions and the prospect of a sixth extinction today.

Why join the course?

This free online course explores how life on earth has been shaped by five mass extinction events in the distant past. At present, biodiversity is facing a crisis, with the prospect of a sixth extinction event today.

Explore the five mass extinctions of the past

Each week there are discussions with scientists about how their research informs us about the biodiversity of our planet including the very first life forms; fish and tetrapod diversification; the radiation of reptiles and dinosaurs; and the rise of mammals.

We focus on the five previous mass extinction events that have shaped the biodiversity of our planet. The fossil record reveals evidence of species that went extinct during these mass extinctions and the new opportunities created for the surviving biota to diversify.

The threat of a “sixth extinction” today

Turning to the present and the Anthropocene period, we look at how human behaviour is now beginning to impact the Earth’s ecosystems.

We consider the threat of the so-called ‘sixth extinction’, finding out how our actions are reducing biodiversity and threatening the survival of many species.

Learn with one of the world’s leading palaeontologists

‘Extinctions: Past and Present’ is created by the University of Cape Town, and filmed on location at South Africa’s Iziko Museum, West Coast Fossil Park, Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens, and the Table Mountain National Park.

You will learn with Professor Anusuya Chinsamy-Turan – an acclaimed paleobiologist, author of a range of academic and children’s books on fossils, and former South African Woman of the Year. In 2013 she was awarded The World Academy of Science’s Sub-Saharan Prize for the Public Understanding and Popularization of Science.

What topics will you cover?

  • The five past mass extinctions and their impact on life on earth.
  • What we know about the past from the fossil record.
  • The earliest forms of life.
  • From simple to complex life forms.
  • Extinction and radiation as drivers of change.
  • Likely causes of mass extinctions throughout earth’s history.
  • Current threats to biodiversity.
  • What we can do to reduce the risk of a ‘sixth extinction’.

When would you like to start?

Most FutureLearn courses run multiple times. Every run of a course has a set start date but you can join it and work through it after it starts.

  • Available now

What will you achieve?

By the end of the course, you‘ll be able to:

  • Identify how the five past mass extinctions have impacted life on earth by looking at changes across the fossil record.
  • Investigate how understanding the past extinction events helps us respond to contemporary environmental challenges.
  • Debate the prospect of a sixth extinction today drawing on knowledge from past extinction events.

Who is the course for?

The course is suitable for anyone with an interest in science or environmental issues. No previous experience is required. While scientific names are used, to for example identify extinct life forms, knowing these are not required to follow the course. We do offer glossaries and explain terms as we go along so you will be able to follow the themes of the course.

Who will you learn with?

Anusuya Chinsamy-Turan

I am a paleobiologist based at the University of Cape Town in South Africa. I have worked on a variety of extinct and modern animals. and I have published many research articles, plus four books.

Who developed the course?

University of Cape Town

The University of Cape Town is one of the leading higher education and research institutions on the African continent and has a tradition of academic excellence that is respected worldwide.

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  • Access to this course for 7 weeks

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  • Access to this course for as long as it’s on FutureLearn
  • Access to this course’s tests as well as a print and digital Certificate of Achievement once you’re eligible

Buy Unlimited and you will get:

  • Access to this course, and hundreds of other FutureLearn short courses and tests for a year
  • A printable digital Certificate of Achievement on all short courses once you’re eligible
  • The freedom to keep access to any course you've achieved a digital Certificate of Achievement on, for as long as the course exists on FutureLearn
  • The flexibility to complete your choice of short courses in your own time within the year
Last updated Oct 2020

About the School

Learn 100% online with world-class universities and industry experts. Develop your career, learn a new skill, or pursue your hobbies with flexible online courses.

Learn 100% online with world-class universities and industry experts. Develop your career, learn a new skill, or pursue your hobbies with flexible online courses. Read less
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