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Unit of study_

BIOL3034: Evolution of the Australian Biota

Semester 1, 2021 [Normal day] - Remote

The diverse Australian biota presents a compelling story of how history and environmental processes have shaped its evolution and the distribution of species over the landscape. For example, the high level of endemism, and the dominance of eucalypts and wattles are distinctive, along with the complex interactions among species, including humans. This unit of study will consider the historical and contemporary processes of change that have led to, and currently influence, the biological diversity of Australia across a range of temporal and spatial scales. You will examine the timing and tempo of the evolution of major groups of plants and animals of Australia, and how these have been influenced by, and continue to interact with, significant earth history events and other organisms. By understanding the past, and the spatial distributions of species, you will be equipped to inform management and conservation decisions about the future of ecosystems and the plants and animals that comprise them. By doing this unit you will develop a deep understanding of the origin and diversity of the plants and animals of Australia. You will become proficient at the techniques and concepts used to infer past events, map current species distributions and to anticipate future changes in biological diversity.

Unit details and rules

Unit code BIOL3034
Academic unit Life and Environmental Sciences Academic Operations
Credit points 6
BIOL3044 or BIOL3944 or BIOL3025 or BIOL3925 or PLNT3003 or PLNT3903
(12cp of BIOL2XXX) or [6cp of BIOL2XXX and (MBLG2X72 or GEGE2X01 or GENE2002)]
Assumed knowledge


Available to study abroad and exchange students


Teaching staff

Coordinator Murray Henwood,
Lecturer(s) Christopher Dickman,
Mark de Bruyn,
Dieter Hochuli,
Ros Gloag,
Glenda Wardle,
Murray Henwood,
Type Description Weight Due Length
Final exam (Take-home short release) Type D final exam Final Exam
Extended response questions
40% Formal exam period 1.5 hours
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO3 LO5
Assignment Project outline
Oral presentation (with visual aids) of proposed project.
10% Week 06 5 minutes
Outcomes assessed: LO4 LO5 LO6 LO7 LO9
Assignment Project results
Written submission of analysed project data.
20% Week 10 n/a
Outcomes assessed: LO2 LO4 LO5 LO6 LO7 LO8 LO9 LO10
Presentation Final Project presentation
Oral presentation (and visual aids) of project data and results.
30% Week 13 10 minutes
Outcomes assessed: LO2 LO10 LO9 LO8 LO7 LO6 LO5 LO4
Type D final exam = Type D final exam ?

Assessment summary

Detailed information about each assessment task can be found on Canvas.

Assessment criteria

The University awards common result grades, set out in the Coursework Policy 2014 (Schedule 1).

As a general guide, a High distinction indicates work of an exceptional standard, a Distinction a very high standard, a credit a good standard, and a pass an acceptable standard.

Result name

Mark range


High distinction

85 - 100

At HD level, a student demonstrates a flair for the subject as well as a detailed and comprehensive understanding of the unit material. A ‘High Distinction’ reflects exceptional achievement and is awarded to a student who demonstrates the ability to apply their subject knowledge and understanding to produce original solutions for novel or highly complex problems and/or comprehensive critical discussions of theoretical concepts.


75 - 84

At D level, a student demonstrates an aptitude for the subject and a well-developed understanding of the unit material. A ‘Distinction’ reflects excellent achievement and is awarded to a student who demonstrates an ability to apply their subject knowledge and understanding of the subject to produce good solutions for challenging problems and/or a reasonably well-developed critical analysis of theoretical concepts.


65 - 74

At CR level, a student demonstrates a good command and knowledge of the unit material. A ‘Credit’ reflects solid achievement and is awarded to a student who has a broad general understanding of the unit material and can solve routine problems and/or identify and superficially discuss theoretical concepts.


50 - 64

At P level, a student demonstrates proficiency in the unit material. A ‘Pass’ reflects satisfactory achievement and is awarded to a student who has threshold knowledge of the subject and can solve simple problems and can accurately identify key theoretical concepts.


0 - 49

When you don’t meet the learning outcomes of the unit to a satisfactory standard.

For more information see

For more information see guide to grades.

Late submission

In accordance with University policy, these penalties apply when written work is submitted after 11:59pm on the due date:

  • Deduction of 5% of the maximum mark for each calendar day after the due date.
  • After ten calendar days late, a mark of zero will be awarded.

Academic integrity

The Current Student website  provides information on academic integrity and the resources available to all students. The University expects students and staff to act ethically and honestly and will treat all allegations of academic integrity breaches seriously.  

We use similarity detection software to detect potential instances of plagiarism or other forms of academic integrity breach. If such matches indicate evidence of plagiarism or other forms of academic integrity breaches, your teacher is required to report your work for further investigation.

You may only use artificial intelligence and writing assistance tools in assessment tasks if you are permitted to by your unit coordinator, and if you do use them, you must also acknowledge this in your work, either in a footnote or an acknowledgement section.

Studiosity is permitted for postgraduate units unless otherwise indicated by the unit coordinator. The use of this service must be acknowledged in your submission.

Simple extensions

If you encounter a problem submitting your work on time, you may be able to apply for an extension of five calendar days through a simple extension.  The application process will be different depending on the type of assessment and extensions cannot be granted for some assessment types like exams.

Special consideration

If exceptional circumstances mean you can’t complete an assessment, you need consideration for a longer period of time, or if you have essential commitments which impact your performance in an assessment, you may be eligible for special consideration or special arrangements.

Special consideration applications will not be affected by a simple extension application.

Using AI responsibly

Co-created with students, AI in Education includes lots of helpful examples of how students use generative AI tools to support their learning. It explains how generative AI works, the different tools available and how to use them responsibly and productively.

WK Topic Learning activity Learning outcomes
Week 01 1. Unit introduction; 2. Historical biogeography: evolution of ideas; 3. Evolution of the Australian flora Lecture and tutorial (2 hr)  
EcoED: gathering and analysing data Practical (3 hr) LO5 LO6 LO7 LO8 LO9 LO10
Week 02 Field trip to Royal National Park Field trip (6 hr) LO2 LO3 LO4 LO6 LO7 LO8 LO9
Week 03 Evolution of the Australian flora and fauna Workshop (2 hr) LO1 LO3 LO9
1. Analysing RNP data; 2. Identifying Australian biota Practical (3 hr) LO2 LO4 LO6 LO7 LO8 LO9 LO10
Week 04 Understanding phylogenetic trees, what are these things called species? Lecture and tutorial (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4
Project proposals, building and interpreting phylogenetic trees Lecture (3 hr) LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5 LO6 LO7
Week 05 1. Humans arrive; 2. Megafauna extinction Lecture and tutorial (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO7
Project work Individual study (3 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5 LO6 LO7 LO8 LO9 LO10
Week 06 1. Sahul from the late pleistocene to today; 2. The formation of The Great Barrier Reef and Australia's offshore islands Lecture and tutorial (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO9
Project work Individual study (3 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5 LO6 LO7 LO8 LO9 LO10
Week 07 1. The past 250 years: new invaders; 2. The past 250 years: new environments Lecture and tutorial (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO7 LO9
Project work Individual study (3 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5 LO6 LO7 LO8 LO9 LO10
Week 08 Is evolution predictable? Lecture and tutorial (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO9
Invasive species forum Workshop (3 hr) LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5 LO6 LO7 LO9
Week 09 Consultation for project Workshop (3 hr) LO2 LO3 LO7 LO9
Week 10 Next generation global biomonitoring Workshop (2 hr) LO1 LO3 LO4 LO9
EcoED: analysing big data - genomic microbial diversity partitions by soil type Practical (3 hr) LO2 LO4 LO8
Week 11 1. Predicting Australia's future; 2. Policy and controversy in Australia's future Workshop (2 hr) LO2 LO3 LO4 LO6 LO7 LO10
EcoED: ecosystem forecasting Practical (3 hr) LO2 LO3 LO4 LO6 LO7 LO10
Week 12 Planetary health, re-wilding and restoration Workshop (2 hr) LO2 LO3 LO4 LO6 LO7 LO10
Planetary health forum Workshop (3 hr) LO2 LO3 LO4 LO6 LO7 LO10
Week 13 Final project presentation Lecture (5 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5 LO7 LO9 LO10

Study commitment

Typically, there is a minimum expectation of 1.5-2 hours of student effort per week per credit point for units of study offered over a full semester. For a 6 credit point unit, this equates to roughly 120-150 hours of student effort in total.

Learning outcomes are what students know, understand and are able to do on completion of a unit of study. They are aligned with the University's graduate qualities and are assessed as part of the curriculum.

At the completion of this unit, you should be able to:

  • LO1. demonstrate an understanding of key concepts and techniques in phylogenetic inference
  • LO2. apply concepts to solve qualitative and quantitative problems using appropriate data and computing techniques as necessary
  • LO3. demonstrate an understanding of key concepts and events in the evolution, and the current and future diversity of a broad range of Australian organisms
  • LO4. apply concepts to the design and execution of appropriate research programs using appropriate data and computing techniques as necessary
  • LO5. communicate scientific information about the past, current, and future diversity of the Australian biota appropriately; both orally and through written work
  • LO6. engage in individual and group work for scientific investigations and for the process of learning
  • LO7. demonstrate a sense of responsibility, ethical behaviour, and independence as a learner and as a scientist
  • LO8. develop high level of skills in computer-based analysis, field collection, and data management
  • LO9. integrate diverse data sources and analytical techniques to address well formulated research problems concerning the past, current, and future diversity of the Australian biota
  • LO10. demonstrate proficiency in the manipulation and analysis of digital data.

Graduate qualities

The graduate qualities are the qualities and skills that all University of Sydney graduates must demonstrate on successful completion of an award course. As a future Sydney graduate, the set of qualities have been designed to equip you for the contemporary world.

GQ1 Depth of disciplinary expertise

Deep disciplinary expertise is the ability to integrate and rigorously apply knowledge, understanding and skills of a recognised discipline defined by scholarly activity, as well as familiarity with evolving practice of the discipline.

GQ2 Critical thinking and problem solving

Critical thinking and problem solving are the questioning of ideas, evidence and assumptions in order to propose and evaluate hypotheses or alternative arguments before formulating a conclusion or a solution to an identified problem.

GQ3 Oral and written communication

Effective communication, in both oral and written form, is the clear exchange of meaning in a manner that is appropriate to audience and context.

GQ4 Information and digital literacy

Information and digital literacy is the ability to locate, interpret, evaluate, manage, adapt, integrate, create and convey information using appropriate resources, tools and strategies.

GQ5 Inventiveness

Generating novel ideas and solutions.

GQ6 Cultural competence

Cultural Competence is the ability to actively, ethically, respectfully, and successfully engage across and between cultures. In the Australian context, this includes and celebrates Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures, knowledge systems, and a mature understanding of contemporary issues.

GQ7 Interdisciplinary effectiveness

Interdisciplinary effectiveness is the integration and synthesis of multiple viewpoints and practices, working effectively across disciplinary boundaries.

GQ8 Integrated professional, ethical, and personal identity

An integrated professional, ethical and personal identity is understanding the interaction between one’s personal and professional selves in an ethical context.

GQ9 Influence

Engaging others in a process, idea or vision.

Outcome map

Learning outcomes Graduate qualities

This section outlines changes made to this unit following staff and student reviews.

We agree that individual projects might not suite everyone, and so for 2020 we are thinking of forming students into tutorial groups mentored by a staff member. These tutorial groups will discuss aspects of the individual projects, and will provide peer support for those who feel that they need it. They will also enable the staff to provide a more coordinated means of delivering consistent information about the scope and direction of the projects.

Work, health and safety

The University provides information, advice and support to help you manage the health and safety risks associated with University activities.  Look on the website for policies, forms, guidelines and other online resources.Completion of the Canvas module “Zoonosis Awareness” is compulsory.

We are governed by the Work Health and Safety Act 2011, Work Health and Safety Regulation 2011 and Codes of Practice. Penalties for non-compliance have increased. Everyone has a responsibility for health and safety at work. The University’s Work Health and Safety policy explains the responsibilities and expectations of workers and others, and the procedures for managing WHS risks associated with University activities.

General Laboratory Safety Rules

  • No eating or drinking is allowed in any laboratory under any circumstances 
  • A laboratory coat and closed-toe shoes are mandatory 
  • Follow safety instructions in your manual and posted in laboratories 
  • In case of fire, follow instructions posted outside the laboratory door 
  • First aid kits, eye wash and fire extinguishers are located in or immediately outside each laboratory 
  • As a precautionary measure, it is recommended that you have a current tetanus immunisation. This can be obtained from University Health Service:


The University reserves the right to amend units of study or no longer offer certain units, including where there are low enrolment numbers.

To help you understand common terms that we use at the University, we offer an online glossary.