BIOS3221 – Assembling the Tree of Life

BIOS3221 - Assembling the Tree of Life is a hot topic in evolutionary biology and phylogenies are now routinely used in many branches of biology. Theories about the relationships of organisms (systematics) has always been a core principle in biology and has never been more relevant with the rapid acquisition of molecular data and advancement in bioinformatics. This course is designed to be hands-on and includes visits to the Australian Museum, the Royal Botanic Gardens and an extended field trip to Smiths Lake. Students will learn how to construct phylogenies from scratch, both by hand and using the latest algorithms. Students will be exposed to major groups of organisms, from fossils to recent species divergences. Past students rate the field trip as a highlight and they are exposed to the remarkable world of insects and their diversification over the past 400 million years.

Session 2, 2017

Study level: Undergraduate

6 units of credit

Hours per week: 5 - 1 hour lecture, 4 hours practicals, plust a one-week field trip.

Number of weeks: 12.

Current handbook entry Current timetable Course outline (see below)

Who should I contact?

Coordinator: Gerry Cassis

What does this course cover?

By the end of the course students will:

  1. Understand the core concepts in phylogenetics and systematics (e.g., characters, taxa, phylogeny). 
  2. Understand the nature of morphological and molecular data.
  3. Construct, analyse and interpret phylogenetic data.
  4. Record collection event data in the field and its relevance to assembling the Tree of Life.
  5. Interpret and evaluate phylogenetic theories and express them in the semester essay and class presentation.
  6. Understand hot topics in the field, including phylogenomics, bioinformatics and divergence dating.

For 2017, the course outline comprises:

  1. What is Systematics?
  2. Fossil taxa and Tree of Life
  3. Animal Tree of Life
  4. Green Plant Tree of Life
  5. Similarity, characters and character states
  6. Homology and character polarity
  7. Phylogenetic reconstruction and parsimony
  8. Smiths Lake field trip
  9. Molecular phylogenetics 1
  10. Molecular phylogenetics 2
  11. Divergence dating

How does this course fit into my degree?

This course will appeal to students in the second and third year of their degrees.

Assembling the Tree of Life (BIOS3221) is relevant to all evolutionary courses, and the insect-based field trip to Smiths Lake is well suited to students who have taken or wish to take BIOS3171 - Evolution and/or BIOS2031 - Biology of Invertebrates.

Is there assumed prior knowledge or a co-requisite?

There are no pre-requisites for this course. 

Are there mandatory activities for this course?

A one-week field trip runs in the mid-session break (27 September - 1 October, 2017). Students will incur an additional cost of $250 for this trip.

The field trip is the most enjoyable aspect of the course. This is due to the intensive training received and the depth of coverage on the systematics and evolution of insects. Students are always amazed at insect morphology and diversity, and are taught to build and identify their own collections, and construct a phylogenetic analysis of insects from scratch.


NB: All information provided on this page is superseded by information provided by the course coordinator or lecturer(s).