BIO3020 - Evolutionary Ecology

General Unit Information

butterfly scales

This unit introduces the key concepts in evolutionary ecology, equipping students with the knowledge and research skills necessary to study the evolutionary processes that shape ecological patterns. The unit commences with a refresher of fundamental definitions for the processes of evolution, selection, and adaptation. Students will apply this knowledge to the study of life-history theory, seeking to come up with answers for how organisms should best allocate their limited resources to survival and reproduction, in order to maximise their fitness. Students then turn their attention to questions that have persistently captivated the attention of biologists – why do we grow old, how do new species emerge, and why do males and females of many species look and behave so differently? All of these questions require firm understanding of evolutionary processes to derive satisfactory answers.

The unit goes on to explore the genetic basis of evolution, through examination of fundamental evolutionary principles and approaches including Hardy-Weinberg equilibrium, fitness, adaptive genetic variation, heritability of complex traits and their response to natural selection. This leads on to exploration of how evolutionary principles and genetic information can be applied to understand ecological patterns and processes in the wild. Students will investigate how different kinds of genetic variation are associated with organismal fitness and the evolutionary potential of populations, which underpins the viability of populations. A main focus will be on how we can use genetic and genomic data to explore key evolutionary and ecological processes in natural populations, including patterns of dispersal and gene flow across small and large ecological scales, and the evolutionary capacity of populations to adapt to rapidly changing environments.

Learning Outcomes

On successful completion of this unit, you should able to:

  1. Explain the fundamental processes of evolution via natural selection, with particular reference to theories of life history evolution and speciation;
  2. Describe the genetic basis of evolution, and demonstrate how genetic data may be applied to investigating evolutionary and ecological processes in wild populations;
  3. Develop hypotheses, research questions, experimental designs, analyses and interpret data;
  4. Acquire, synthesise and critically analyse relevant primary research literature to answer questions in evolutionary ecology;
  5. Communicate complex ideas in evolutionary ecology in oral and/or written formats.

Unit Coordinator
NamesProfessor Damian Dowling
Office location18Inn/439
Office hoursBy appointment - Please email
Technical Coordinator
NameEmily Skoda  (
Office location25Rnf/114
PrescribedFreeman, Scott; Herron, Jon C.  2014. Evolutionary Analysis, 5th Edition. Pearson Benjamin Cummings.  
Program for 2021
University Handbook EntryBIO3020 - Synopsis, Assessment & Prerequisites
ScheduleBIO3020 - Lecture & Practical Schedule for 2021
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