BIO2022 - Evolutionary Ecology

General Unit Information


This unit introduces students to the patterns and processes of evolution by natural selection. It investigates the mechanisms and processes under which different morphological forms evolve in nature. Armed with this background, we investigate the factors that shape the evolution of life-histories (traits that are closely associated with reproduction and survival).

The unit goes on to explore the genetic basis of evolution by natural selection and adaptation of organisms to their environments. This entails an appreciation of the control and inheritance of traits that have major influences in the lives of organisms, and fundamental evolutionary principles and approaches (Hardy-Weinberg equilibrium, fitness, adaptive genetic variation, heritability of complex traits and their response to natural selection). Students will understand how different kinds of genetic variation are (and are not) associated with fitness of individual organisms and viability of populations.

We then explore approaches to investigating population biology of organisms (such as estimating dispersal and gene flow in real landscapes) in a coherent progression encompassing small and large ecological scales. These concepts are illustrated by exploration of exciting examples encompassing pure and applied science, including urban ecology, invasion and conservation biology, global change ecology, with associated practical work. We examine fitness in natural populations and the special issues of small populations, particularly inbreeding depression, loss of genetic variation, limits to adaptation to new environmental pressures, and the relationship between genetic variation and extinction risk of populations and species. We investigate how genetic variation in organisms is associated with ecosystem function, ecological community structure and protection against environmental change.

The unit ends with an assessment of how evolutionary principles can be applied to try and assist biota to adapt sufficiently rapidly to survive rapidly changing environments with multiple stressors.


On completion of this unit students will be able to:

  1. Describe the theory of evolution;
  2. Explain the fundamental processes of evolution via natural selection with particular reference to life history evolution;
  3. Describe the principles of speciation, species concepts and systematically classifying organic diversity;
  4. Outline the genetic basis of evolution, and the associated fundamental principles and approaches of evolutionary genetics;
  5. Describe major types of genetic variation, and demonstrate an appreciation of how they may be applied to estimating major features of population biology;
  6. Identify and explain the relationship between different types of genetic variation and the fitness and function of individuals;
  7. Review and explain the theoretical and observed relationships between evolutionary genetic variation and extinction risk of populations, and describe the avenues by which evolutionary principles can be used to promote survival of populations and species in a changing and uncertain world;
  8. Synthesise and communicate scientific principles and information underlying evolution in oral and/or written formats.

Specific Unit Information

Unit Coordinator
NamesAssociate Professor Damian Dowling
Office location18Inn/439
Office hoursBy appointment - Please email
Technical Coordinator
NameAnna Senior
Office location25Rnf/114
Phone9905 6447
PrescribedFreeman, Scott; Herron, Jon C.  2014. Evolutionary Analysis, 5th Edition. Pearson Benjamin Cummings.  

Allendorf, F. W., G. H. Luikart, and S. N. Aitken. 2013. Conservation and the Genetics of Populations. Second edition. Wiley.
Program for 2018
University Handbook EntryBIO2022 - Synopsis, Assessment & Prerequisites
ScheduleBIO2022 - Lecture & Practical Schedule for 2018
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