• Offered by Biology Teaching and Learning Centre
  • ANU College ANU Joint Colleges of Science
  • Course subject Biology
  • Areas of interest Plant Science, Evolution and Ecology
  • Academic career UGRD
  • Course convener
    • Prof Patrick Meir
  • Mode of delivery In Person
  • Co-taught Course
  • Offered in First Semester 2021
    See Future Offerings

This course has been adjusted for remote participation in Sem 1 2021 due to COVID-19 restrictions. On-campus activities will also be available.

Ecologists study the fundamental patterns of life that we see in the wild, and in managed landscapes; the so-called ‘laws of nature’. Humanity has always depended upon this biology. We need to understand it because doing so helps us to interpret and predict how animals and plants will respond to changes in the environment. These changes may be natural or caused by humanity, from climate change to deforestation to urbanisation. We start by considering how organisms interact with the physical environment and with each other to shape their own growth, survival and reproduction, and the ecosystems of which they are a part. We can work out if populations will increase or decline, and then predict the composition of natural communities. How many species? How many individuals of each species? What is their impact on an ecosystem? We explore how natural patterns change across different scales of time and space; and what processes affect how communities assemble and ecosystems work.


Can forests or grasslands affect our climate, and by how much? Why are there always more herbivores than carnivores in natural ecosystems? Why do some plants have small thick leaves while others have large, thin leaves?  Why do some species happily co-exist, but others never occur together? In addressing these types of questions, you will gain critical insight into how energy and (bio)mass flow through ecosystems and are exchanged with the atmosphere; and how populations and communities are likely to respond to environmental changes, be they natural or human-induced.

In this course you will explore the foundations of ecological thinking, learn key methods of field and data analysis, and consider how ecological principles can help us to conserve natural ecosystems. The course has a wide coverage: the study of organisms, populations, communities and ecosystems. The physical scales you will investigate range from the organ (e.g., a leaf) to the individual to ecosystems and the Earth system and includes processes from energy exchange to biotic interactions like competition between species and predation. We also put theory into practice. There is a compulsory 3-day field trip to the Kioloa Coastal Campus, that will enable you will be learn to connect fundamental concepts with field measurement, data analysis and interpretation.

Learning Outcomes

Upon successful completion, students will have the knowledge and skills to:

  1. Examine and summarise central ideas underpinning the ecology of individuals, populations, communities and/or ecosystems;
  2. Integrate ecological understanding of processes operating across multiple scales of space and time;
  3. Understand how observation, experimentation and modelling can be used to generate and test ecological hypotheses;
  4. Think critically about scientific evidence to understand ecological patterns and processes;
  5. Conduct basic ecological research, learn to analyse ecological data using graphical, tabular and quantitative analysis, also learning to use the R statistical programming language; and to communicate the findings of their research;
  6. Work as a research team and provide effective peer support.

Other Information

The field trip will now take place on ANU campus (due to Covid, the usual location of the Kioloa field station cannot be used this year). There will be no additional field cost to students this year.

Indicative Assessment

  1. Field and class practical reports 3 x 20% each (60) [LO 1,2,3,4,5,6]
  2. Theory Exam (40) [LO 1,2,3,4]

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The expected workload will consist of approximately 130 hours throughout the semester including:

  • Face-to face component which may consist of 3 x 1 hours lectures per week (total to 36 hours). Up to 5 x 4 hours practicals or equivalent throughout the semester.
  • Compulsory 3 days field trip to Kioloa Coastal Campus, (total to approximately 24 hours).
  • Approximately 50 hours of self directed study which will include preparation for lectures, presentations, data analysis classes and other assessment tasks.

Students are expected to actively participate and contribute towards discussions.

Inherent Requirements

To complete this course, students must participate in an approximately 3 day field trip. In order to participate in the trip, students must be able to:

  • Travel to the field location and stay in field accommodation such as shared basic cabins or dorm rooms;

Students who cannot meet these requirements will not be able to participate in the trip and therefore cannot complete the course. For more information, please refer to the trip information page.

In addition, in order to participate in some of the activities on the trip, students must be able to:

  • Safely traverse 1-3 km over uneven ground at a moderate pace.

Students who can provide evidence they are unable to meet this requirement may be able to negotiate alternative participation and assessment requirements with the course convenor.

Requisite and Incompatibility

To enrol in this course you must have successfully completed BIOL1003 or ENVS1003, or have permission of the convener. You are not able to enrol in this course if you have completed BIOL6004.

Prescribed Texts

Key readings will be provided on Wattle.

Assumed Knowledge

BIOL1009 or BIOL2202


Tuition fees are for the academic year indicated at the top of the page.  

Commonwealth Support (CSP) Students
If you have been offered a Commonwealth supported place, your fees are set by the Australian Government for each course. At ANU 1 EFTSL is 48 units (normally 8 x 6-unit courses). More information about your student contribution amount for each course at Fees

Student Contribution Band:
Unit value:
6 units

If you are a domestic graduate coursework student with a Domestic Tuition Fee (DTF) place or international student you will be required to pay course tuition fees (see below). Course tuition fees are indexed annually. Further information for domestic and international students about tuition and other fees can be found at Fees.

Where there is a unit range displayed for this course, not all unit options below may be available.

6.00 0.12500
Domestic fee paying students
Year Fee
2021 $4110
International fee paying students
Year Fee
2021 $5880
Note: Please note that fee information is for current year only.

Offerings, Dates and Class Summary Links

ANU utilises MyTimetable to enable students to view the timetable for their enrolled courses, browse, then self-allocate to small teaching activities / tutorials so they can better plan their time. Find out more on the Timetable webpage.

The list of offerings for future years is indicative only.
Class summaries, if available, can be accessed by clicking on the View link for the relevant class number.

First Semester

Class number Class start date Last day to enrol Census date Class end date Mode Of Delivery Class Summary
4337 22 Feb 2021 01 Mar 2021 31 Mar 2021 28 May 2021 In Person View

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