BIOSCI 729 : Evolutionary Biology


2020 Semester Two (1205) (15 POINTS)

Course Prescription

A contemporary approach to central issues in evolutionary biology including mechanisms that produce macroevolutionary patterns. Current research using phylogenetic methods for testing evolutionary hypotheses will be discussed, encompassing the role of selection, the origin of mutations, and concepts of heredity. A sound understanding of BIOSCI 322 or equivalent is assumed.

Course Overview

This course provides an opportunity to review a wide range of evolution literature, from philosophical papers to technical articles. Your choice of reading can reflect your own interests, but remember to stick to the seminar topics! The main objectives of this paper are to teach students in regard to evolutionary biology what a liberal arts education teaches students in general (Benjamin Ginsberg “The fall of the faculty”, 2011), i.e. to interpret the evolutionary literature in depth, to identify significant intellectual problems posed by this literature, and to discuss and write about this literature perceptively and persuasively. Nine seminars are timetabled for this course in 2019, plus a review slot. Students will be e-mailed a basic reading list for each seminar, and reading lists will be available through the 729 Canvas page. This will provide students with an entry to the literature for each seminar, but students are expected to widen their reading by their own efforts. It is very important that all students complete the assigned reading each week, as this underpins seminar participation. Note that the seminars generally involve contrasting different points of view, hence a balanced and informed perspective requires reading multiple papers. The idea here is to develop critical thinking, a skill that will be required when engaging with the literature during the course of postgraduate research.

Course Requirements

No pre-requisites or restrictions

Capabilities Developed in this Course

Capability 1: Disciplinary Knowledge and Practice
Capability 2: Critical Thinking
Capability 3: Solution Seeking

Learning Outcomes

By the end of this course, students will be able to:
  1. Understand and critically evaluate the criteria required to demonstrate natural selection in the wild. (Capability 1, 2 and 3)
  2. Understand and critically evaluate Evolutionary Developmental biology and the genetic basis of animal diversity. (Capability 1, 2 and 3)
  3. Understand and critically evaluate the causes of the Cambrian Explosion and its importance to our understanding of evolution. (Capability 1, 2 and 3)
  4. Understand and critically evaluate species concepts and their role in speciation studies. (Capability 1, 2 and 3)
  5. Understand and critically evaluate speciation studies and the mechanisms of speciation. (Capability 1, 2 and 3)
  6. Understand and critically evaluate industrial melanism, and its strengths and weaknesses as an example of natural selection. (Capability 1, 2 and 3)
  7. Understand and critically evaluate the similarities and differences between neo-Darwinism, Developmental Systems Theory, the extended synthesis and other approaches to evolutionary theory. (Capability 1, 2 and 3)
  8. Understand and critically evaluate the study of ancient DNA and what can it tell us about evolution. (Capability 1, 2 and 3)
  9. Understand and critically evaluate neutral theory and its relevance to evolutionary theory. (Capability 1, 2 and 3)


Assessment Type Percentage Classification
In course essay 15% Individual Coursework
In course essay 15% Individual Coursework
Final examination 70% Individual Examination
Assessment Type Learning Outcome Addressed
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
In course essay
In course essay
Final examination

Learning Resources

Reading lists as supplied for each seminar.

Special Requirements


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 18 hours of seminars,  54 hours of reading and thinking about the content and 48 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 12/02/2020 08:12 p.m.