The UNSW Life on a Dynamic Earth (GEOS3071) course explores Comparative Biogeography, which is the study of how life and Earth evolved together. It introduces you to biological classification, tectonics and deep time. It also allows you to discover the processes that have shaped the distribution of life on Earth looking at plants, animals, continents and more. This course is aimed at students who are interested in the fields of Palaeoecology, Phylogenetics, Terrestrial and Marine Biogeography and related professions.

Biogeographers analyse patterns of biodiversity, species distribution and geological history to unravel the shared history of the Earth and its life forms. Rooted in systematics, Comparative Biogeography offers an empirical framework for discovering and deciphering the patterns and processes of life on Earth.

By converging the two disciplines of Biology and Geography, Biogeography is in a unique position to understand factors that determine the evolution of species and the influence the environment has on their distribution. For example, how did plate tectonics create a transition zone known as Wallacea in the Neogene? What geographical barriers, such as mountain ranges drive bioregionalisation?

Throughout the course, you’ll learn the comparative method – its history and theory – and the complete analysis of Southeast Asia. You’ll ponder questions like: Is Wallace’s Line still an effective biogeographic barrier and do Biogeographers have their bioregionalisations right? The course is designed to help you solve real biogeographic problems using all the resources at hand, including the internet, library and online databases.


Course Breakdown

The Life on a Dynamic Earth course enables you to develop communication skills that will enhance your practice as a Historical Scientist in Biogeography, Systematics and Paleontology. The course has a very practical orientation as this field requires you to understand history, theory and the methodology of Biogeography.

Through the process of writing detailed lab reports, you’ll document how your own hypothesis is developing in relation to the evidence and methods at hand. A significant component of the assessment will be individual problem-solving and the sharing of information.

The course is delivered in a blended format, comprised of face-to-face tutorials, lectures and group work. In the face-to-face lectures and tutorials, you’ll be expected to contribute your own views and ideas. The tutorials and lectures will help you learn and understand how to discover biogeographic patterns and interpret them.

Upon completion of the course, you’ll have the knowledge and expertise to:

  1. Understand the history, theory and methodology of comparative biogeography
  2. Create artificial and natural classifications for use in biogeography
  3. Undertake a comparative biogeographical analysis using computer programs
  4. Obtain specialist knowledge of the Oriental and Australasian biogeographic regions
  5. Communicate your results and ideas to a specialist and general scientific audience


Conditions for Enrolment

All students must have assumed knowledge of Earth and Environmental Science (GEOS1211).


Career Opportunities

Biogeographers work in fields within the Environmental Sciences from Biology to Zoology and from Geology to Geography. A Biogeographer further explores the effect and relationship between evolution and the distribution patterns of plants and animals. Today, roles are applied to the conservation of biodiversity, the planning of crops and even the spread of infectious diseases like COVID-19.

Technological advances are increasingly supporting the research and contribution Biogeographers have on the environment and within industry. These include satellite imaging and processing of the Earth and Geographic Information Systems (GIS).

Relevant Roles

  • Biogeographer
  • Paleontologist
  • Geologist
  • Geophysicist
  • Zoologist
  • Ecologist
  • Environmental Scientist
  • Natural Resource Manager
  • Marine Scientist
  • Marine Biologist
  • Environmental Scientist

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