• Offered by Biology Teaching and Learning Centre
  • ANU College ANU Joint Colleges of Science
  • Course subject Biology
  • Areas of interest Plant Science, Zoology, Evolution and Ecology, Biodiversity Conservation
  • Academic career UGRD
  • Course convener
    • Prof Adrienne Nicotra
  • Mode of delivery In Person
  • Co-taught Course
  • Offered in Spring Session 2021
    See Future Offerings

This course cannot be entirely adjusted for remote participation in Sem 2 2021 and will include on-campus activities.

Plants and animals from cold alpine environments have evolved strategies to enable them to survive freezing temperatures and short growing seasons. While in tropical rainforests, they have evolved to deal with wet, often dark conditions where they rarely encounter other members of their own species. Finding suitable places to settle, grow and reproduce is a challenge. In both environments plants and animals have evolved special morphologies, physiologies and behaviours that influence the way they interact with other species, and that allow them deal with extreme conditions.

If you would like to conduct original field research on plants and animals in a beautiful field site, this intensive residential field course may be for you. The advanced version of this course is aimed at students who have completed 2000 level science courses and are interested to explore and develop an independent research project. Working with practitioners, students develop independent field research projects in plant and animal ecology. We explore the ways that diverse organisms respond to conditions in their environments and acquire the resources they need to survive, grow and reproduce: their functional ecology. The course location varies among years, but regardless of location the same theoretical principles will be explored in the context of protected area management, conservation and climate change.


By exploring the functional ecology of plants and animals simultaneously, students develop an understanding of the differences and commonalities among organisms. Students develop skills in research including project design and execution, data analysis and interpretation, and oral and written presentation of results. Students will get to apply a wide array of field techniques used in ecophysiology and behavioural ecology. Students will also engage in supported peer mentoring and peer review processes.


Our aim is to give participants a chance to do real science and to embrace being an independent scientist. In addition to the hard research skills, we explore keys to effective collaboration and collegial interactions. The experience enables students to approach their later year studies with a new perspective and will provide real-world skills relevant in both science and non-science careers.

This is an Honours Pathway Course.


Learning Outcomes

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

  1. Identify and reflect on the commonalities and differences in the way animals and plants cope with environmental conditions and acquire the resources needed for growth and reproduction.
  2. Identify and critically evaluate the current state of knowledge about a specific research question in functional ecology.
  3. Formulate testable hypotheses, design experiments and analyse results based on an understanding of the research literature.
  4. Conduct functional ecological research independently and apply a range of current techniques.
  5. Collaborate as a group to reach research goals and to mentor and support learning in other students.
  6. Demonstrate effective scientific communication, including written communication and oral presentation, peer review, mentoring and guiding other students.
  7. Interpret data against original hypotheses and knowledge of the literature, and suggest avenues for future research.

Other Information

This is a field course. The field trip will be held in the Kosciusko National Park in Dec 2021 and in a tropical location the following year. Due to the Covid safety guidelines and space limitation, places are limited. Please register your interest online . Applications for the Dec 2021 trip will open from 17 May and close Mon Sept 6th. Entry will be merit-based. The additional cost of the field course (to cover travel, food and accommodation) will be approximately $1,000 and can be paid via ScienceShop . For more information, please email rsb.studentadmin@anu.edu.au.  

Check out these great videos: Functional Ecology field trip to Kosciuszko National Park in December 2016 and the Daintree Rainforest in July 2017 and Singapore in 2018 .

Indicative Assessment

  1. Field notebook: students will keep a field notebook containing notes from lectures and directed field problems, data, and records of results and conclusions. Students will also be expected to answer reflective questions on their learning throughout the course. Notebook will be assessed during the course. (30) [LO 1,2,3,4,5,6,7]
  2. Final report: each student will write up their independent project in the form of a scientific paper. This will be due one week after course completion. (40) [LO 1,2,3,4,5,7]
  3. Peer mentoring and direct research project: Students will be assessed on their preparation and delivery and the support they provide to BIOL2203 and other BIOL3303 students directed field problems. (20) [LO 3,4,5,6]
  4. Presentation: each student will present their independent project to the group. (10) [LO 5,6,7]

The ANU uses Turnitin to enhance student citation and referencing techniques, and to assess assignment submissions as a component of the University's approach to managing Academic Integrity. While the use of Turnitin is not mandatory, the ANU highly recommends Turnitin is used by both teaching staff and students. For additional information regarding Turnitin please visit the ANU Online website.


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

  • Overall there will be about 75 hours contact with teaching staff
  • Approximately 50 hours of individual and group work

This is a residential intensive course. Students are expected to complete preparatory readings, actively participate and contribute to all course content during the trip, and complete a final report on return.

Inherent Requirements

To complete this course, students must participate in the 2 week long field trip in a domestic or international field location. 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;
  • Monitor and manage their own health while studying and living with a small group of people in an isolated field location;
  • Understand and respect the needs of other participants and act professionally throughout the trip.

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:

  • Safety traverse 2-3 km over uneven ground at a moderate pace.

Students who can provide evidence they are unable to meet this requirement, or can otherwise only participate in part of the trip activities 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 completed at least 72 units towards a degree including relevant courses in plant or animal ecology (e.g. 2000 level courses in BIOL or ENVS) or with the permission of the course convener. Incompatible with BIOL6303

You will need to contact the Biology Teaching and Learning Centre to request a permission code to enrol in this course.

Prescribed Texts


Preliminary Reading

Readings will consist of articles from the primary literature. Course will travel with a library of relevant texts.

Assumed Knowledge

Basic understanding of biology, especially ecology and evolution, commensurate with successful completion of second year biology.


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.

Spring Session

Class number Class start date Last day to enrol Census date Class end date Mode Of Delivery Class Summary
6597 28 Nov 2021 03 Dec 2021 03 Dec 2021 11 Dec 2021 In Person N/A

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