Invertebrate paleontology is concerned with the evolution and paleobiology of animals lacking backbones. Many phyla are represented, with Coelenterata (corals), Brachiopoda, Mollusca (bivalves, snails, etc.), Arthropoda (insects, trilobites, crustaceans, etc.), and Echinodermata (sea-stars, feather-stars, etc.) being among the best known. The state of Michigan covers a large geological basin, the Michigan Basin, which is filled with Paleozoic strata rich in invertebrates. Paleontology at Michigan started with exploration and interpretation of the Michigan Basin, and Michigan Basin collections remain a large and important part of the invertebrate collections here.
Research in invertebrate paleontology has gone through two phases at Michigan. The first, in the nineteenth century, involved Douglass Houghton, one of the first faculty members of the University, Alexander Winchell, and Carl L. Rominger. The second phase started in 1919 with appointment of George M. Ehlers and later Lewis B. Kellum, Erwin C. Stumm, and Robert V. Kesling. Professor Ehlers was succeeded by D. Bradford Macurda and Daniel C. Fisher. Professor Fisher is Curator of Invertebrate Paleontology in the Museum of Paleontology and Professor of Paleontology in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences. Professor Kesling was succeeded by Jennifer A. Kitchell, Michael Foote, and Tomasz K. Baumiller. Professor Baumiller is Curator of Invertebrate Paleontology in the Museum of Paleontology and Professor of Paleontology in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences.
The invertebrate collections contain over 2,000,000 specimens. There is particular strength in Paleozoic faunas, especially corals, trilobites, ostracods, and echinoderms of the Michigan Basin and surrounding areas. These specimens include material used in the case study that led to Eldredge and Gould's (1972) proposal of "punctuated equilibria." Mesozoic invertebrates are also well represented, in collections from Central America, North America, and Europe.