BIOSCI 323 : Plant Diversity


2020 Semester Two (1205) (15 POINTS)

Course Prescription

An introduction to plant systematics, plant reproductive strategies, and the evolution of plants with a comprehensive survey of the characteristics and distributions of the major plant groups. Coverage will also include classical and phylogenetic approaches to plant identification, and applications of systematics. Practical work will focus on tools for identifying plants, introduction to plant diversity in the lab and field, and development of a herbarium collection.

Course Overview

We offer a welcoming, inspiring and intellectually challenging course exploring the fascinating diversity, evolution and relationships of plants. BIOSCI323 celebrates diverse people and diverse plants - we strive for a welcoming, safe, and accessible class. Our fieldtrips are accessible daytime excursions (no overnight or evening activities). We are inspired by a tuakana-teina approach in which the knowledge of all students and staff is valued and can be shared. We focus on plant groups and the drivers of plant diversity, especially in Aotearoa. We explore phylogeny, evolution, morphology, human use of plants, and plant-animal interactions, within a framework recognising the diverse cultural value of plants, and the importance of plant conservation.

Our course is designed for students interested in a career involving botany, ecology, plant biology, plant taxonomy or plant structure and function. Future careers could be in applied research or management of plants, e.g. for biosecurity, conservation, horticulture, or food production, or theoretical studies of plant diversity, evolution, or botany in general. 

We develop both botany-specific and broadly applicable scientific career skills that will be useful in workplaces or postgraduate studies in biology, ecology, biosecurity or conservation, including: reviewing & synthesising scientific information, preparing a scientific paper for submission to a journal, and hands-on skills in collecting, identifying, and archiving plants and herbarium data. To facilitate career development, we have labs, guest speakers, and activities with several of Auckland's main employers of ecology and botany graduates: Auckland Council, Auckland Botanic Gardens, Auckland Museum, and Plant & Food.

A remote version of the course will be available for those studying from overseas - we warmly welcome local and international students.

Course Requirements

Prerequisite: BIOSCI 102 or 104 and 30 points at Stage II in Biological Sciences, Environmental Science or Geography

Capabilities Developed in this Course

Capability 1: Disciplinary Knowledge and Practice
Capability 2: Critical Thinking
Capability 4: Communication and Engagement
Capability 5: Independence and Integrity
Capability 6: Social and Environmental Responsibilities
Graduate Profile: Bachelor of Science

Learning Outcomes

By the end of this course, students will be able to:
  1. Describe how plants are classified, the key features of the major plant groups, and how their relationships and traits define taxonomy. (Capability 1)
  2. Analyse how plant diversity is affected by plant traits, distributions, and interactions with other plants and animals. (Capability 1 and 2)
  3. Characterise the deep cultural value of plants from M?ori and diverse international perspectives, the key threats to plants, and how these inform our approaches to studying and conserving plants. (Capability 4, 5 and 6)
  4. Employ professional skills in researching, discussing, and writing about contemporary taxonomic and conservation issues in botany. (Capability 2, 4, 5 and 6)
  5. Apply best practice methods for finding, collecting, identifying, and archiving plant specimens accurately and ethically. (Capability 1, 5 and 6)


Assessment Type Percentage Classification
Essay 15% Individual Coursework
Assignments 25% Individual Coursework
Test 15% Individual Coursework
Final Exam 35% Individual Coursework
Laboratories 10% Individual Coursework
Assessment Type Learning Outcome Addressed
1 2 3 4 5
Final Exam
The 'mid-semester test' is split into 3 short tests, spaced out during semester and held during our regular lecture times.
The essay is a 1500w literature review, in the style of the journal Trends in Plant Science
The major assignment is a collection of pressed plant specimens, like those lodged at a herbarium. We will lend you with a plant press and all necessary gear to colllect these (please return the press and gear at the end of semester).


We have no formal Tuākana program, but we connect closely with current and past Tuākana and teina and can help connect any students that would like to form study groups.

Key Topics

We have two major themes:
Plant groups and their traits
- we cover all the major land-based plant groups, with an emphasis on Aotearoa species
Drivers of plant diversity
- e.g. evolution, biogeography, cultural use, and plant-animal interactions

Learning Resources

All course materials are provided on Canvas. Please contact the course coordinator if you would like them to print you a copy of the course guide. There are no prescribed text books.

Special Requirements

All activities are intended to be inclusive for diverse students
  • There are no overnight fieldtrips or evening tests.
  • We have one (optional) day trip on a Saturday to Totara Park, next to the Botanic Gardens in Manurewa - gravel tracks, can be muddy, some steep sections but not essential to go to those spots, unisex toilets nearby at the Botanic Gardens, service dogs and accompanying persons welcome (please contact course coordinator to organise this).This trip is an opportunity to collect plants to press for your major plant collection assignment.
  • During the mid-semester break, we have 2 days with a 1-3hr daytime visit to the Auckland Museum (these form the basis of a lab report worth 5%).
  • This course requires you to make a collection of plant specimens to press. If you are studying remotely with no access to any plants or equipment you can use to press plants, or if you are unable to collect plants for any other reason, please contact the course-coordinator to discuss options.

Workload Expectations

This course is a standard 15 point course and students are expected to spend 10 hours per week involved in each 15 point course that they are enrolled in.

For this course, you can expect 30 hours of lectures, 6 labs, 1 day field trip (~5 hours), 2 days with a 1-3hr visit to Auckland Museum during mid-semester break.

Other Information

Thanks for considering enrolling in BIOSCI323 Plant Diversity. The Lecturers include James Brock, Bruce Burns, Anne Gaskett, Cate Macinnis-Ng, Shane Wright, and guests such as ex-323 students now employed as botanists at the Botanic Gardens, Plant and Food, and Auckland Museum. We genuinely really enjoy teaching this course and look forward to meeting you.

Digital Resources

Course materials are made available in a learning and collaboration tool called Canvas which also includes reading lists and lecture recordings (where available).

Please remember that the recording of any class on a personal device requires the permission of the instructor.


The content and delivery of content in this course are protected by copyright. Material belonging to others may have been used in this course and copied by and solely for the educational purposes of the University under license.

You may copy the course content for the purposes of private study or research, but you may not upload onto any third party site, make a further copy or sell, alter or further reproduce or distribute any part of the course content to another person.

Academic Integrity

The University of Auckland will not tolerate cheating, or assisting others to cheat, and views cheating in coursework as a serious academic offence. The work that a student submits for grading must be the student's own work, reflecting their learning. Where work from other sources is used, it must be properly acknowledged and referenced. This requirement also applies to sources on the internet. A student's assessed work may be reviewed against online source material using computerised detection mechanisms.

Inclusive Learning

All students are asked to discuss any impairment related requirements privately, face to face and/or in written form with the course coordinator, lecturer or tutor.

Student Disability Services also provides support for students with a wide range of impairments, both visible and invisible, to succeed and excel at the University. For more information and contact details, please visit the Student Disability Services’ website at

We warmly welcome diverse students - nau mai, haere mai tangata whenua, Pacifika students, students with disabilities, refugee background, gender diverse, international, mature age, LGBTQITakatāpui+, parents and carers, part-time students - all welcome.

Special Circumstances

If your ability to complete assessed coursework is affected by illness or other personal circumstances outside of your control, contact a member of teaching staff as soon as possible before the assessment is due.

If your personal circumstances significantly affect your performance, or preparation, for an exam or eligible written test, refer to the University’s aegrotat or compassionate consideration page:

This should be done as soon as possible and no later than seven days after the affected test or exam date.

Student Feedback

During the course Class Representatives in each class can take feedback to the staff responsible for the course and staff-student consultative committees.

At the end of the course students will be invited to give feedback on the course and teaching through a tool called SET or Qualtrics. The lecturers and course co-ordinators will consider all feedback.

Your feedback helps to improve the course and its delivery for all students.

Student Charter and Responsibilities

The Student Charter assumes and acknowledges that students are active participants in the learning process and that they have responsibilities to the institution and the international community of scholars. The University expects that students will act at all times in a way that demonstrates respect for the rights of other students and staff so that the learning environment is both safe and productive. For further information visit Student Charter (


Elements of this outline may be subject to change. The latest information about the course will be available for enrolled students in Canvas.

In this course you may be asked to submit your coursework assessments digitally. The University reserves the right to conduct scheduled tests and examinations for this course online or through the use of computers or other electronic devices. Where tests or examinations are conducted online remote invigilation arrangements may be used. The final decision on the completion mode for a test or examination, and remote invigilation arrangements where applicable, will be advised to students at least 10 days prior to the scheduled date of the assessment, or in the case of an examination when the examination timetable is published.

Published on 07/07/2020 11:21 a.m.