BIOSCI 396 : Terrestrial Ecology


2020 Semester One (1203) (15 POINTS)

Course Prescription

Experimental and theoretical population and community ecology focusing on the interactions and environmental forces controlling the distribution and abundance of terrestrial populations of plants and animals. Both New Zealand and international examples will be used to explain the fundamental processes shaping ecological systems throughout the world.

Course Overview

The course is structured into sections covering population ecology, plant population and community ecology, animal competition, species interactions, fungal ecology and mutualisms, ecosystem ecology, and landscape ecology. The course culminates in a series of lectures on hot topics and current theoretical debates in ecology. The common themes running through this course are distribution, diversity, abundance, and interactions – of and within organisms, species, populations and communities.
As well, the course has a focus on skill development for careers in ecology. The major practical exercise undertaken within BIOSCI 396 is a semester-long, small group research project. Each group is tasked with developing an ecological question/hypothesis, designing an observational or experimental process to address this question/hypothesis, and then presenting their results in both verbal and written forms. The course includes a set of tutorials/workshops and other resources to develop these skills within students.

Course Requirements

Prerequisite: BIOSCI 109, 206, and STATS 101 or 108

Capabilities Developed in this Course

Capability 1: Disciplinary Knowledge and Practice
Capability 2: Critical Thinking
Capability 3: Solution Seeking
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. Understand how biotic and abiotic factors determine the distribution, diversity and abundance of ecological populations and communities. (Capability 1)
  2. Understand emergent properties of ecosystems and how ecosystems function at a landscape scale (Capability 1)
  3. Develop skills in framing ecologically relevant questions and hypotheses (Capability 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6)
  4. Critically evaluate and synthesise primary ecological literature in relation to ecological questions and/or hypotheses (Capability 1, 2 and 3)
  5. Use and apply scientific methods and processes to gather, analyse, interpret and/or synthesise data to draw conclusions and make scientifically based decisions. (Capability 2, 3 and 5)
  6. Communicate ecological concepts and experimental outcomes clearly and logically using language and formats appropriate for a scientific audience. (Capability 4, 5 and 6)
  7. Understand how ecological practice operates in society including compliance, health and safety and cultural issues. (Capability 3, 5 and 6)


Assessment Type Percentage Classification
Field trip exercise 5% Individual Coursework
Research project proposal 10% Group & Individual Coursework
Verbal presentation 10% Group Coursework
Final research project report 25% Group & Individual Coursework
Mid-semester test 20% Individual Test
Final exam 30% Individual Examination
Assessment Type Learning Outcome Addressed
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
Field trip exercise
Research project proposal
Verbal presentation
Final research project report
Mid-semester test
Final exam

Students must separately pass the combined practical exercises (field trip exercise, research project proposal, verbal presentation, and final research project report) and theoretical (mid-semester test and final exam) components of the course.

Key Topics

  1. Population ecology
  2. Plant population and community ecology
  3. Animal competition
  4. Species interactions
  5. Fungal ecology and mutualisms
  6. Ecosystem ecology
  7. Landscape ecology
  8. Hot topics/theoretical debates

Learning Resources

Optional textbook: Begon, M., Howarth, RW, Townsend, CR 2014. Essentials of Ecology. 4th ed. Wiley.

Special Requirements

The course includes two weekend long field trips to Shakespear Regional Park: one at the start of the semester in which students form into small groups (3-4 students), generate a ecological question/hypothesis, and design a research project to address this question/hypothesis; and a second in early May in which the research projects are executed to generate real data. These data are then analysed and presented back to the class as a verbal presentation and in a final report in the format of a scientific paper.

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 3 hours of lectures,  3 hours of reading and thinking about the content and 4 hours of work on assignments and/or test preparation.

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

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 05/03/2020 09:35 p.m.