91396 - Morphometry and Phenotypical Plasticity

Course Unit Page


This teaching activity contributes to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals of the UN 2030 Agenda.

Oceans Life on land

Academic Year 2022/2023

Learning outcomes

The learning objectives of the course of morphometry and phenotypic plasticity include the aquisition of general theoretical skills and the analysis of published scientific studies. Students will learn how to design an experiment to study phenotypic plasticity of an organism in response to the environment; i.e. how environmental variation determines different development strategies starting from the same genotype. Case studies about the effect of environmental change on different aspects of the phenotype will be analysed, thus learning to quantify phenotypic variations at different scales of observation and using multi-disciplinary techniques, from macro-morphology to gene expression.

Course contents

- Introduction: presentation, definition of the concepts of phenotypic plasticity and morfometry, course calendar and teaching material, final evaluation methods

- Brainstorming on phenotypic plasticity

- Framing phenotypic plasticity in the theory of evolution

- What is phenotypic plasticity and why it is important

- Analysis of case studies on coral phenotypic plasticity

- Eco-Devo

- Debunking Nemo: anemonefish as a model for Eco-Evo-Devo studies

- Flipped Classroom: Lessons prepared at home by students and given to the rest of the class, presenting case studies on the application of morfometry to answer ecological questions, followed by a group discussion

- The importance of phenotypic plasticity in functional ecology and in the assessment of ecosystem services

- Biometry excercise: macro-morphometric data collection and elaboration on Excel, applying statistical analyses to detect morphological variations among groups and to generate a simple dichotomous key.

- 3D geometric morphometry and Procrustes analysis in paleoanthropology (seminar by Annalisa Pietrobelli)

- Virtual field trip: introduction to river ecology, importance of morphology in the identification of macro-invertebrates, which are used in river monitoring for the calculation of the Extended Biotic Index (EBI). Didactic videos on sampling methodology filmed while studying the impact of a structure (i.e. weir) on macro-invertebrate community. Use of dichotomous keys to identify collected systematic units and calculation of the EBI.

- Unusual phenotypic plasticity on articifial substrata and comparison among traditional morphometry, 3D geometric morphometry, and cnidocysts analysis approaches in a deep water coral.

- Case studies from papers selected by the students of previous years



All teaching material will be provided before each lesson on the online didactic platform.

No textbook will have to be purchased.

Teaching methods

The course uses tradional teaching methods (front lessons, computer practices) and exepriments some innovative teching techniques (brainstorming, flipped classroom). The active and creative participation of students is and integral part of the course formative objectives and teching methods.

Assessment methods

The oral examination is composed of three parts:

1) The presentation of a brief power point (5 slide, 5 minutes) illustrating a paper selected by the student on a topic matching the course subject. A discussion related to the presentation will follow.

2) The definition of two terms randomly selected from a list that will be provided by the end of the course

3) One question on a subject related to one of the terms of part 2) (chosen by the teacher or by the student). A slide corresponding to the subject will be chosen from the slides using during the lessons and provided as support.

The exam evaluation mode will be explained in detail during the first lesson of the course. Many lessons will contain clear moments of training for the evaluation mode. The final lesson of the course will be entirely dedicated to clarify any residual doubt about the exam mode and evalutation.

Teaching tools

Slides, papers, videos, wooclap, excel, dichotomic keys of river macroinvertebrates.

Office hours

See the website of Erik Caroselli