• Class Number 6010
  • Term Code 3360
  • Class Info
  • Unit Value 6 units
  • Mode of Delivery In Person
    • Prof Marcel Cardillo
    • Dr Craig Moritz
    • Prof Lindell Bromham
    • Prof Loeske Kruuk
  • Class Dates
  • Class Start Date 24/07/2023
  • Class End Date 27/10/2023
  • Census Date 31/08/2023
  • Last Date to Enrol 31/07/2023
SELT Survey Results

"Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution"

Theodosius Dobzhansky (1973)



Evolution has shaped everything about the biological world. This course will help you to make sense of evolution. It will give you deeper insights into some of the most gripping aspects of existence: why organisms age, why most animals have sex rather than reproducing clonally, why diseases are virulent or mild, why individuals choose to compete rather than cooperate, and much more.


This course will help you to develop an appreciation and understanding of evolutionary principles and processes, including microevolution (natural and sexual selection, fitness, adaptation, sexual conflict, coevolution) and macroevolution (speciation, molecular evolution, phylogenetics, evolution of biodiversity). The course will also briefly introduce human evolution and the emerging field of evolutionary medicine.


The course is not just about learning facts. It is about understanding how evolutionary biologists do research, and getting to grips with how we can design tests or experiments that tell us about processes that happen over timescales longer than a human life, or events that occurred millions of years ago. For example, how do we test ideas about why some birds are brightly coloured and others dull? How can we reconstruct the events that result in one species splitting into two? How can we explain why there are so many species in tropical rainforests? By the end of this course, you will be able to formulate and test your own evolutionary hypotheses.


A series of 4 workshops include in-depth discussions of the complexities of evolutionary issues, and a computer workshop to give you hands-on experience of evolutionary analysis.

Honours Pathway Option (HPO):

Entry to this option will be subject to approval by the course convener and is based on academic merit. Students who take this option will participate in additional activities based on reviewing recent research papers to develop skills in critical thinking, and assessing and interpreting scientific evidence.

Learning Outcomes

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

  1. Examine, summarise and integrate central ideas explaining evolutionary patterns and processes from the molecular to the macro scale.
  2. Analyse the role of observation, pattern, experimentation and modelling in the generation and testing of evolutionary hypotheses.
  3. Critically evaluate scientific evidence for and against evolutionary patterns and processes.
  4. Conduct basic evolutionary research and communicate the findings both orally and in writing.

Research-Led Teaching

The strong emphasis of this course is on understanding evolution not by memorizing facts, but by understanding how evolutionary biologists do their research. The first week of the course gives a historical background into the development of evolutionary ideas in biology. The rest of the course draws heavily on both classic and contemporary research to understand how current thinking in evolution has been shaped. Group presentations encourage students to engage with and critically analyze key research on different aspects of evolution.

Field Trips

There are no field trips for this course.

Additional Course Costs

There are no additional costs.

Examination Material or equipment

None other than standard exam materials.

Required Resources

There are no required resources.

Some of the course is loosely based on the textbook "Evolution: Making Sense of Life" (2nd ed, 2016) by Carl Zimmer & Douglas Emlen. Lecturers will vary in how closely their lectures are linked to the textbook content. However, buying the textbook is by no means compulsory and students will not be disadvantaged if they can't buy their own copy. There are a limited number of copies available for short loan in the Hancock Library. Other recent, general evolution texts are also excellent for background and reinforcing class material.

Recommended student system requirements 

ANU courses commonly use a number of online resources and activities including:

  • video material, similar to YouTube, for lectures and other instruction
  • two-way video conferencing for interactive learning
  • email and other messaging tools for communication
  • interactive web apps for formative and collaborative activities
  • print and photo/scan for handwritten work
  • home-based assessment.

To fully participate in ANU learning, students need:

  • A computer or laptop. Mobile devices may work well but in some situations a computer/laptop may be more appropriate.
  • Webcam
  • Speakers and a microphone (e.g. headset)
  • Reliable, stable internet connection. Broadband recommended. If using a mobile network or wi-fi then check performance is adequate.
  • Suitable location with minimal interruptions and adequate privacy for classes and assessments.
  • Printing, and photo/scanning equipment

For more information please see https://www.anu.edu.au/students/systems/recommended-student-system-requirements

Staff Feedback

Students will be given feedback in the following forms in this course:
  • Written comments
  • Verbal comments
  • Feedback to the whole class, to groups, to individuals, focus groups

Student Feedback

ANU is committed to the demonstration of educational excellence and regularly seeks feedback from students. Students are encouraged to offer feedback directly to their Course Convener or through their College and Course representatives (if applicable). The feedback given in these surveys is anonymous and provides the Colleges, University Education Committee and Academic Board with opportunities to recognise excellent teaching, and opportunities for improvement. The Surveys and Evaluation website provides more information on student surveys at ANU and reports on the feedback provided on ANU courses.

Other Information

A course handbook will be provided on the Wattle site. This will include a comprehensive description of the course, the timetable and assessment items. The handbook is updated occasionally during the semester so students should check regularly for updates. Announcements will be made on Wattle and in lectures about upcoming events and deadlines. Lecturers will also post their lecture slides, relevant journal papers, useful links and other resources to support student learning, on the Wattle site.

The HPO involves additional activities based on reviewing recent research papers to develop skills in critical thinking, and assessing and interpreting scientific evidence.

Class Schedule

Week/Session Summary of Activities Assessment
1 Introduction to course (Marcel)The discovery of evolution (Lindell)
  • 2 lectures
2 Molecular evolution (Lindell)
  • 3 lectures
3 Darwinian evolution (Lindell)
  • 3 lectures
4 Language evolution (Lindell)
  • 3 lectures
5 Adaptation (Michael)
  • 3 lectures
6 Inclusive fitness & sex (Michael)
  • 3 lectures
  • 1 discussion group workshop
7 Speciation (Craig)
  • 3 lectures

8 Speciation (Craig)
  • 3 lectures
  • 1 discussion group workshop
9 Human evolution & health (Craig)
  • 3 lectures
10 Phylogenetics (Marcel)
  • 3 lectures

11 Macroevolution (Marcel)
  • 3 lectures
  • 1 discussion group workshop
12 Macroevolution (Marcel)
  • 3 lectures

Tutorial Registration

All tutorials are scheduled as single-date events. No signup required.

Assessment Summary

Assessment task Value Learning Outcomes
Fortnightly quizzes (online) 40 % 1,2,3
Explainer video 25 % 1,2,3,4
Exam 35 % 1,2,3,4

* If the Due Date and Return of Assessment date are blank, see the Assessment Tab for specific Assessment Task details


ANU has educational policies, procedures and guidelines, which are designed to ensure that staff and students are aware of the University’s academic standards, and implement them. Students are expected to have read the Academic Misconduct Rule before the commencement of their course. Other key policies and guidelines include:

Assessment Requirements

The ANU is using 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. For additional information regarding Turnitin please visit the ANU Online website Students may choose not to submit assessment items through Turnitin. In this instance you will be required to submit, alongside the assessment item itself, hard copies of all references included in the assessment item.

Moderation of Assessment

Marks that are allocated during Semester are to be considered provisional until formalised by the College examiners meeting at the end of each Semester. If appropriate, some moderation of marks might be applied prior to final results being released.


This course works best when everyone participates actively. Most lectures will be done in person, and lecturers will encourage questions and discussions. If there is something you don't fully understand in a lecture, or an idea you'd like to hear thoughts of the lecturer or other students on, please ask! It is what we are expecting.There is also a forum for online discussions on the Wattle page.


There will be a final exam (worth 35%) in the exam period at the end of semester, covering the whole course.

Assessment Task 1

Value: 40 %
Learning Outcomes: 1,2,3

Fortnightly quizzes (online)

Every second Friday an online quiz (in Wattle) will become available for a limited time period, and once the quiz has been started students have a set time to complete and submit their answers. The eight questions in each quiz may be multiple choice or short-answer, and they will cover and help to reinforce the topics covered in lectures and discussion groups in the previous 2 weeks. Each quiz is worth 8% of the course mark, and the quizzes in total are worth 40%. There will be six quizzes but students will only be marked on their top five.

Assessment Task 2

Value: 25 %
Learning Outcomes: 1,2,3,4

Explainer video

In week 3 the class will be divided into groups of 4-5 students. Each group will choose one review paper from a set of papers that we’ll provide, covering a range of evolutionary topics relevant to the course. Group members will then work together to put together an explainer video together with a one-page summary, that presents the key messages and evolutionary concepts in their chosen paper.

Assessment Task 3

Value: 35 %
Learning Outcomes: 1,2,3,4


A 2-hour final exam will be scheduled for some time during the exam period in November. The exam will cover the whole course and will most likely consist of several long-answer (essay-style) questions. The exam questions will not aim to test your ability to recall facts from the course – the aim will be to test your understanding of evolutionary concepts by asking you to critically review or appraise ideas, draw connections between different ideas, apply concepts learned from one case study to another, etc.

Academic Integrity

Academic integrity is a core part of our culture as a community of scholars. At its heart, academic integrity is about behaving ethically. This means that all members of the community commit to honest and responsible scholarly practice and to upholding these values with respect and fairness. The Australian National University commits to embedding the values of academic integrity in our teaching and learning. We ensure that all members of our community understand how to engage in academic work in ways that are consistent with, and actively support academic integrity. The ANU expects staff and students to uphold high standards of academic integrity and act ethically and honestly, to ensure the quality and value of the qualification that you will graduate with. The University has policies and procedures in place to promote academic integrity and manage academic misconduct. Visit the following Academic honesty & plagiarism website for more information about academic integrity and what the ANU considers academic misconduct. The ANU offers a number of services to assist students with their assignments, examinations, and other learning activities. The Academic Skills and Learning Centre offers a number of workshops and seminars that you may find useful for your studies.

Online Submission

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. You will be required to electronically sign a declaration as part of the submission of your assignment. Please keep a copy of the assignment for your records. Unless an exemption has been approved by the Associate Dean (Education) a submission must be through Turnitin

Hardcopy Submission

For some forms of assessment (hand written assignments, art works, laboratory notes, etc.) hard copy submission is appropriate when approved by the Associate Dean (Education). Hard copy submissions must utilise the Assignment Cover Sheet. Please keep a copy of tasks completed for your records.

Late Submission

No submission of assessment tasks without an extension after the due date will be permitted. Late submission of assessment tasks without an extension are penalised at the rate of 5% of the possible marks available per working day or part thereof. Late submission of assessment tasks is not accepted after 10 working days after the due date, or on or after the date specified in the course outline for the return of the assessment item.

Referencing Requirements

Accepted academic practice for referencing sources that you use in presentations can be found via the links on the Wattle site, under the file named “ANU and College Policies, Program Information, Student Support Services and Assessment”. Alternatively, you can seek help through the Students Learning Development website.

Returning Assignments

Discussion group presentations are assessed on the day by lecturers and tutor. Discussion group mini-reviews and computer prac worksheets should be submitted via the Wattle page.

Extensions and Penalties

Extensions and late submission of assessment pieces are covered by the Student Assessment (Coursework) Policy and Procedure The Course Convener may grant extensions for assessment pieces that are not examinations or take-home examinations. If you need an extension, you must request an extension in writing on or before the due date. If you have documented and appropriate medical evidence that demonstrates you were not able to request an extension on or before the due date, you may be able to request it after the due date.

Resubmission of Assignments

We do not allow resubmission of assignments.

Privacy Notice

The ANU has made a number of third party, online, databases available for students to use. Use of each online database is conditional on student end users first agreeing to the database licensor’s terms of service and/or privacy policy. Students should read these carefully. In some cases student end users will be required to register an account with the database licensor and submit personal information, including their: first name; last name; ANU email address; and other information. In cases where student end users are asked to submit ‘content’ to a database, such as an assignment or short answers, the database licensor may only use the student’s ‘content’ in accordance with the terms of service — including any (copyright) licence the student grants to the database licensor. Any personal information or content a student submits may be stored by the licensor, potentially offshore, and will be used to process the database service in accordance with the licensors terms of service and/or privacy policy. If any student chooses not to agree to the database licensor’s terms of service or privacy policy, the student will not be able to access and use the database. In these circumstances students should contact their lecturer to enquire about alternative arrangements that are available.

Distribution of grades policy

Academic Quality Assurance Committee monitors the performance of students, including attrition, further study and employment rates and grade distribution, and College reports on quality assurance processes for assessment activities, including alignment with national and international disciplinary and interdisciplinary standards, as well as qualification type learning outcomes. Since first semester 1994, ANU uses a grading scale for all courses. This grading scale is used by all academic areas of the University.

Support for students

The University offers students support through several different services. You may contact the services listed below directly or seek advice from your Course Convener, Student Administrators, or your College and Course representatives (if applicable).
Prof Marcel Cardillo

Research Interests

macroevolution, macroecology, biogeography, conservation

Prof Marcel Cardillo

By Appointment
Dr Craig Moritz
6125 5651

Research Interests

macroevolution, macroecology, biogeography, conservation

Dr Craig Moritz

Prof Lindell Bromham
6125 9545

Research Interests

Prof Lindell Bromham

Prof Loeske Kruuk

Research Interests

macroevolution, macroecology, biogeography, conservation

Prof Loeske Kruuk


Responsible Officer: Registrar, Student Administration / Page Contact: Website Administrator / Frequently Asked Questions