BIOSCI 760 : Biosystematics


2024 Semester One (1243) (15 POINTS)

Course Prescription

Exploration of key concepts and processes that form the professional discipline of biosystematics. Introduction and familiarisation with advanced concepts in biosystematics, and knowledge of methods to manage biosystematics collections, to develop accessible biodiversity databases, and to study and characterise biodiversity. Previous experience with basic taxonomic principles and the systematics of a taxonomic group is desirable.

Course Overview

“A lifetime producing natural history documentaries has taught me many things. Among them, three stand out. Firstly, the living planet is an utterly astonishing place, filled with marvellous creatures living remarkable lives. Secondly, people all over the world have an insatiable curiosity about nature. And thirdly, there is a great need to communicate the wonder, value, and diversity of the living world if we are to ensure that we can hand to future generations an environment as rich and marvellous as ours. I’ve also come to appreciate the work of the many scientists whose lives are dedicated to understanding nature.

And perhaps none more so than the taxonomists and biosystematists who have discovered, resolved, named, and described all the species I showcase in my documentaries. Taxonomists and biosystematists build the system, the species, and their relationships, on which much of biology, conservation, ecology—and nature documentaries—depend. We cannot properly grasp or understand the natural world without this taxonomic system. Every time I show the world a species and its life, I depend on the work of these scientists. And yet, in countries the world over, at the very time that many species are under greatest threat, funding and other resources allocated to the task of discovering, naming, and documenting nature are declining. Our taxonomic capacity is not adequate for the magnitude of the task. This has serious consequences for the future of life on Earth.”

Excerpt from foreword by Sir David Attenborough in A decadal plan for taxonomy and biosystematics in Australia and New Zealand 2018–2027.

Exploration of key concepts and processes that form the professional discipline of biosystematics. Introduction and familiarisation with advanced concepts in biosystematics, and knowledge of methods to manage biosystematics collections, to develop and make accessible biodiversity databases, and to study and characterise biodiversity. Interest in systematics of a specific taxonomic group is desirable.

Topics covered in seminars include: (1) the concepts of morphological taxonomy (past–present–future); (2) Māori biodiversity knowledge systems and perspectives; (3) biosecurity specific taxonomy; (4) biosystematics databases. This course provides an opportunity to review a wide range of systematics and taxonomic literature. Students will be provided a basic reading list for each seminar but are expected to find related literature to broaden their understanding. It is very important that all students complete the assigned reading and come prepared to present their ideas and discuss the topic. A participation mark reflects student engagement in these discussions.

There are four practical workshops that cover these topics: (1) botany taxonomy (keys); (2) curatorial methods for insects; (3) mini bioblitz; (4) cataloguing and data-basing. You will also spend 60 hours in a collection (fungi, arthropods, botany, etc.) to develop knowledge in a particular taxonomic group and the management of the collection. The seminar presentation will highlight your experiences at the collection.

The review assignment allows you to focus on a specific biosystematics topic that interests you, to synthesize, analyse and critique the literature to produce a publication quality review. Key aims of the course are to introduce and familiarise you with advanced concepts in biosystematics, provide you with the knowledge of methods to manage biosystematics collections, and to study and characterise biodiversity.

Recommended reading before the course is Discovering Diversity: A decadal plan for taxonomy and biosystematics in Australia and New Zealand 2018–2028 (

Course Requirements

No pre-requisites or restrictions

Capabilities Developed in this Course

Capability 1: People and Place
Capability 2: Sustainability
Capability 3: Knowledge and Practice
Capability 4: Critical Thinking
Capability 5: Solution Seeking
Capability 6: Communication
Capability 7: Collaboration
Capability 8: Ethics and Professionalism
Graduate Profile: Master of Ecology

Learning Outcomes

By the end of this course, students will be able to:
  1. Explain and apply advanced biosystematic concepts and theory. (Capability 3, 4, 6 and 8)
  2. Demonstrate a broad understanding of biosystematics collections and databases. (Capability 1, 2, 3, 6, 7 and 8)
  3. Undertake studies in a specialist area of biodiversity. (Capability 1, 2, 3, 6, 7 and 8)
  4. Create and participate in designing a key for botanical specimens. (Capability 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7)
  5. Identify key aspects that lead to sustainable ways of cataloguing biodiversity richness. (Capability 2, 3, 5, 6, 7 and 8)


Assessment Type Percentage Classification
Essay 30% Individual Coursework
Presentation 25% Group & Individual Coursework
Research 25% Individual Coursework
Workshop Discussions 20% Group & Individual Coursework
Assessment Type Learning Outcome Addressed
1 2 3 4 5
Workshop Discussions


Tuākana Science is a multi-faceted programme for Māori and Pacific students providing topic specific tutorials, one-on-one sessions, test and exam preparation and more. Explore your options at

Key Topics

Theory and practical taxonomy and biosystematics.

Special Requirements

60 hour internship with a Natural History Collection.
Field trip to visit three natural history collections.

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.

Average students are expected to spend 150 hours to achieve a pass. Use the following as a guide.

Contact time = 20 hours

Field trip = 6 hours

Review (including review outline) = 20 hours

Presentation: Biosystematics concepts = 15 hours

Essay = 40 hours

Collection internship = 60 hours

Reading literature = 10 hours

Delivery Mode

Campus Experience

The course is scheduled as a block course in the week prior to semester 1  beginning. Attendance is required for all scheduled activities, which includes: seminars, workshops, field trip and the collection internship to complete the components of the course.

All seminars and workshops will be delivered on campus. The field trip is to the Auckland Museum and to Manaaki Whenua-Landcare Research.

Learning 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.

This course is mostly based on refereed scientific literature provided.

Discovering Diversity: A decadal plan for taxonomy and biosystematics in Australia and New Zealand 2018–2028 (

Workshop resources will be provided.

Health & Safety

Workshops are mostly dry labs, or photographing specimens in campus grounds. Health & Safety will be discussed at the beginning of each workshop. Lab coats and safety glasses will be provided if required.

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.

Based on feedback from students: 

  • The internship will commence at the start of the semester to enable students to complete their 60 hours over the semester and possibly be reduced 50 hours (to discuss with students and curators).
  • Inclusion of four practical-based workshops that will give students hand-on experience with taxonomy techniques (before internship).
  • Beginning the course with Mātauranga Māori concepts in taxonomy.

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 for potential plagiarism or other forms of academic misconduct, using computerised detection mechanisms.

Class Representatives

Class representatives are students tasked with representing student issues to departments, faculties, and the wider university. If you have a complaint about this course, please contact your class rep who will know how to raise it in the right channels. See your departmental noticeboard for contact details for your class reps.


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.

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

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.

Contact the course coordinator.

Learning Continuity

In the event of an unexpected disruption, we undertake to maintain the continuity and standard of teaching and learning in all your courses throughout the year. If there are unexpected disruptions the University has contingency plans to ensure that access to your course continues and course assessment continues to meet the principles of the University’s assessment policy. Some adjustments may need to be made in emergencies. You will be kept fully informed by your course co-ordinator/director, and if disruption occurs you should refer to the university website for information about how to proceed.

The delivery mode may change depending on COVID restrictions. Any changes will be communicated through Canvas.

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 students may be asked to submit 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. In exceptional circumstances changes to elements of this course may be necessary at short notice. Students enrolled in this course will be informed of any such changes and the reasons for them, as soon as possible, through Canvas.

Published on 06/11/2023 08:36 a.m.