BIOS3161 - Life in Arid Lands

Photo: Giselle Chia

BIOS3161 - Life in Arid Lands provides students with a unique opportunity to learn about plant and animal life in arid lands and receive advanced practical research training at UNSW’s spectacular Fowlers Gap Arid Zone Research Station in western NSW. The course combines on-campus class sessions with a week-long field trip.

By the end of this course, you will have an understanding of the biology of the major arid lands around the globe. You will get hands-on experience conducting fieldwork in semi-arid western NSW, and develop skills for designing, implementing and communicating research projects.

BIOS3161 is offered in Term 1

6 units of credit

Current handbook entry Current timetable Course outline


Photo: Louis Dardare

Who should I contact?

Coordinator: Associate Professor Lisa Schwanz

 What does this course cover?

Major topics covered include:
  • Global deserts in perspective
  • Structure and function of arid landscapes
  • Thermal ecology
  • Physiological & Morphological Adaptation
  • Community ecology
  • Dealing with temporal and spatial variation


For more information, see the course outline.

  Photo: Charlotte Beloe


Where does this course fit into my degree?

This course is intended for Stage 3 students pursuing a major in biology (or other 3rd year students with an interest and adequate background in biology) and interested in learning skills associated with independent research and field work, and learning about plants and animals in arid environments. It provides excellent preparation for honours research.

This course includes advanced training in all stages of conducting independent research, thus provides excellent preparation for honours research. In addition, the course develops skills in understanding primary scientific literature, conducting field research, and effective communication of science.

Is there assumed prior knowledge or a co-requisite?

It is a pre-requisite that students will have completed one of the taxonomic diversity courses (BIOS2061- Vertebrate Zoology; BIOS2031 - Invertebrate Zoology; or BIOS2051 - Flowering Plants) prior to enrolling in BIOS3161 (Life in Arid Lands). 

Are there mandatory activities for this course?

Students must attend:

  • weekly class meetings (2 hrs), weeks 1-5/6 & week 11; and
  • a field trip to Fowlers Gap Field Station, 7 days inclusive.

More information about the field trip:

The trip will be in April and will run during regular session (NOT during mid-semester break). Many BEES conveners will be aware of the field trip, but it is your responsibility to ensure your other course conveners are willing for you to miss a week of class meetings. The field trip will incur a cost of approximate $350: $310 for food, accommodation at Fowlers Gap, NSW Trainlink travel to Broken Hill (NB: to qualify for a student fare, student ID is required), and bus charter from Broken Hill.  This amount will be required before the start of the semester so that we can reserve your seat on the NSW Trainlink booking. Additional costs will be incurred associated with lodging the first night of arrival in Broken Hill; these arrangements and costs are the responsibility of the student.

Is there anything else I should know?

Student enjoyment of field trips is a group effort – enthusiasm, flexibility and consideration of your fellow students and the environment will make the trip amazing for everyone.
Your own success on the field trip will also depend on being proactive in your own learning. Take advantage of this opportunity to explore the environment.
While Fowlers Gap provides very comfortable accommodation, field work in the arid environment often requires being exposed to hot, cold, and dry conditions. In addition, it requires navigating uneven terrain. Depending on your research project, you may spend several hours outdoors each day. 
Attendance to regular class sessions in mandatory, as the activities include planning your group research project.

I took this course a while ago, and need proof of what was covered.

Links to previous course outlines are coming soon.

Student perspectives

Find out what alumni of BIOS3161 - Life in Arid Lands thought about this course.

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