BIOS3221 – Assembling the Tree of Life

BIOS3221 - Assembling the Tree of Life is designed to train undergraduate students in the principles and application of phylogenetic systematics. Students will learn about the conceptual basis of comparative biology, using morphological and molecular data. Coupled with this conceptual framework students will learn how to determine character homologies, construct and interpret phylogenies by hand and using the latest software programs (TNT, Mesquite). This course will expose students to the importance of collection-based research through visits to the Australian Museum and the Royal Botanic Gardens, and interaction with their staff through lectures, practicals, and the Smiths Lake field trip. Fieldwork will focus on collection techniques, field identification, and the importance of natural history information in classification. 

S2 2018, T3 2019

Study level: Undergraduate

6 units of credit

Current handbook entry Current timetable Course outline 

Who should I contact?

Coordinator: Dr Malte Ebach

What does this course cover?

By the end of the course students should have achieved the following outcomes:

  1. Understand the core concepts in phylogenetic systematics (characters, taxa, phylogeny). 
  2. Understand the nature of morphological and molecular data.
  3. Undertake and interpret phylogenetic analyses.
  4. Understand importance of fieldwork
  5. Be able to understand the processes and material used in identifying taxa.
  6. Interpret and evaluate scientific ideas and express them in semester essay and class presentation.
  7. Knowledge of the above elements will be assessed through practicals, student projects, and exercises associated with the field trip to Smiths Lake.

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.


There is no final exam – assessment is continuous.


NB: All information provided on this page is superseded by information provided by the course coordinator or lecturer(s).