Back to: Ecology and Evolutionary Biology major Ecology and Evolutionary Biology major

This major explores how evolutionary biology can be applied to answer questions and solve problems in many fields, including evolution, ecology and biodiversity. 

The Ecology and Evolutionary Biology major integrates knowledge from a range of exciting and interesting disciplines, from genetics (through organismal biology) to ecosystem science. You will develop skills in the survey, experimentation and modelling of ecological and evolutionary processes, and discover how evolutionary ecology can be applied to solve current problems in evolution, ecology and biodiversity.

You can choose to specialise in Ecology, Conservation Ecology, or Evolution and Biodiversity.


You could choose to pursue a career or research in the areas of:

  • Animal behaviour
  • Conservation biology
  • Ecology
  • Environmental consulting
  • Evolutionary biology
  • Systematics and biodiversity.

Subjects you could take in this major

  • This subject explores how natural and sexual selection have shaped the intriguing and often bizarre behaviours of animals. Topics include resource competition, predator avoidance, communication, mate choice, parental care, cooperation, sexual conflict, and the role of genes, hormones and learning in shaping behavioural diversity. Lectures draw on examples from across the animal kingdom to illustrate the complex mechanisms underlying adaptations, and are complemented with natural history videos that highlight key concepts. We evaluate the scientific rigour of studies used to test theory, and highlight the often ingenious methods adopted by researchers to understand animal behaviour.

  • The subject describes and evaluates the applications of ecological concepts for the conservation and management of natural and man-made ecosystems. In particular, it identifies the implications of global and local changes for ecological communities and habitats, especially within the Australian environment. It examines approaches to management of terrestrial and aquatic habitats, including the role of genetics, the effects of habitat fragmentation; the control of pest species, and restoration of damaged habitats

  • This subject explores the relevance of ecological and evolutionary theory for understanding the distributions of species, their interactions, their life history characteristics and how these traits are impacted by changing environmental conditions. Topics include spatial ecology and metapopulations, climatic impacts on distribution and abundance, life history evolution and ecosystem stability and resilience. The skills developed in this subject provide an essential grounding for careers in ecology.

  • Australia is one of the most urbanised countries in an increasingly urbanised world. This subject will introduce students to urban ecology and landscape ecology concepts and illustrate how they can be applied to plan and design more ecologically sustainable human landscapes. Topics include the concept of scale in ecology, land transformation and habitat fragmentation, the structure and components of landscapes, patterns and processes along urban-rural gradients, the impacts of urbanisation on biodiversity and strategies to mitigate them.

  • This subject deals with how plants function in relation to changing physical environments and is designed for students interested in plant biology and physiology, including those seeking majors in plant science, agricultural science, landscape management, and environmental science. The practical work includes a six-week research project on topics selected by students and run in small groups of 2-3.

    Topics to be covered will include:

    • coping with environmental extremes and stress;
    • water use and drought tolerance;
    • plant defence and plant-animal interactions;
    • nutrient cycling and nutrient-use efficiency;
    • hyperaccumulation of toxic metals and phytoremediation.
  • The subject includes an outline of the framework for applying the concepts of risk assessment to achieve management goals. Students will learn how to perform fundamental exposure, hazard and ecological risk assessment procedures. The subject content includes the psychology and history of risk perception, exposure pathways, models for environmental toxicology, Australian standards for risk assessment, response surfaces, indicator species and exemplars, test endpoints, assessment endpoints and management goals, extrapolations among taxa, interval arithmetic, empirical modelling, parameter estimation, and risk assessment.

  • How human are humans? Is Darwin’s extraordinary idea relevant for our species? This subject examines the role of evolution in shaping human biology, by examining our past origins, our current behavior and life-histories, and our future relationships with other organisms. Topics include the evolutionary history of hominids, patterns of migration and variation in skin colour; human reproductive strategies and sex ratios; why language makes us different; how genes and environment shape sexual and cooperative behavior; antagonistic co-evolutionary processes and antimicrobial resistance, pathogen virulence, and management of natural resources. Lectures draw on contemporary examples from the primary literature, complemented with TV documentaries. There is a strong emphasis on distinguishing between unsubstantiated conjecture and concepts that are supported by rigorous science.

  • The emphasis of this subject is on understanding how evolutionary forces shape the gene pool, on the use of molecular markers in genome mapping, in dissecting polygenic traits by mapping quantitative trait loci, and in other applications such as phylogenetics and conservation biology. The topics covered will be classical population genetics, the impact of natural selection, processes of speciation, conservation genetics, evolution of development, phylogenetic reconstruction, development of saturated linkage maps, physical mapping of genomes, mapping quantitative trait loci, comparative genomics, functional genomics and high-throughout methods of scoring genetic polymorphisms.

  • In this subject you will conduct group-based, hands-on, original research into animal behaviour. Over the semester you will be immersed in the entire process of scientific research - from hypothesis development and experimental design, through to data collection and statistical analysis. You will report your findings in spoken and written formats, and critically review the work of other students. Study animals range from insects and spiders, to fish, birds and mammals – in the lab, zoo or wild. You will emerge with an authentic experience of scientific research – complete with its challenges, frustrations and the thrill of scientific discovery.

  • This subject explores the techniques and methods of undertaking marine biological research, including experimental and sampling design, data collection, statistical analysis of data, presentation of the research results and peer review. Students will participate in a group project, in which they will design, execute, analyse and interpret observational and experimental studies of marine animals in field and laboratory settings.

  • This field work subject provides an overall perspective on the biology of Australian terrestrial vertebrates: marsupials, monotremes, eutherians, birds, reptiles and amphibians. A key aim is for students to gain experience in designing and conducting a research project on wild animal populations and then preparing a journal style manuscript reporting their findings. Thus they should develop skills in analysing, interpreting and evaluating data and integrating their findings with existing literature and knowledge. Students should also develop skills in detection, population survey, capture, handling, collection of standard morphometric data and identification of wildlife, and assessment of behaviour, reproductive status etc. They will apply these research methods to animals in the wild, and integrate this with knowledge of the biology of these taxa.

  • This subject is structured around the fieldwork excursion in early February and covers the basic skills that are required to undertake a field-based botanical activity such as a flora survey or an environmental impact assessment, or to proceed to research in a field-based botanical discipline. Topics to be covered include:

    • taxonomy of the Australian flora;

    • field identification of major families and genera of plants;

    • collection and preservation of plant specimens; mounting and cataloguing specimens; curatorial skills; nomenclature;

    • techniques for description and classification of vegetation; structural types, floristic associations, measures of abundance (cover, density, basal area, biomass), sampling techniques (quadrats, line transects, plotless methods), sampling scale and species-area relationships, profile diagrams, life-form spectra;

    • soils; and

    • vegetation mapping.

  • The oceans cover 71% of the earth’s surface and are vital to the well being of humans in many ways. This subject covers our current understanding of the biology of marine organisms and how marine scientists assess environmental impacts, manage exploited species and conserve biodiversity.

  • This subject will introduce the general principles and modern methods of plant evolutionary biology: how to discover the phylogeny (relationships) of organisms using both morphological characters and molecular (DNA) data; how to use this information to improve the classification systems of plants; how to study aspects of evolution, coevolution and historical biogeography; and how to integrate information from living and fossil plants to discover the past and date evolutionary events. Examples of the diversity and evolution of Australian plants - both fossil and living forms - will be used throughout this subject. Topics will include:

    • discovering plant relationships phylogenetic systematics;
    • evolution of vascular plants, especially flowering plants;
    • fossil history of land plants;
    • historical biogeography and evolution of Australian flora.
  • This subject examines theories in the discipline of ecology and biogeography as they pertain to riverine environments, emphasising the use of theory to understand how to solve environmental management problems in river ecosystems. The subject examines the population, community and ecosystem dynamics of rivers, and the geographical distributions and diversities of the organisms that inhabit these ecosystems. Through practicals and fieldwork, students should develop an understanding of the relations between catchment characteristics, the nature of the water body and its associated biota. Students should become aware of the multidisciplinary nature of ecosystem management and the need for critical examination of ideas in the literature.

  • This subject provides a detailed knowledge of vegetation structure and natural values of Victorian plant communities and their assessment, including environmental limiting factors, threats due to land use, development and fragmentation, and management issues related to environmental impact assessment and conservation of native vegetation. The subject will be based around short excursions to examine different vegetation types in the Melbourne region, and a series of special lectures by scientists, managers and consultants from both the government and private sectors. Topics will include:

    • ecology and natural history of Victorian plant communities;

    • environmental impacts and vegetation assessment;

    • conservation and management issues (e.g. revegetation, rare species, faunal habitat, weed invasions);

    • biodiversity legislation and government agencies;

    • consulting services and client focus.

Entry requirements & Prerequisites

This major is available through more than one course, both of which have their own separate entry requirements.

You can read more on the the Bachelor of Science & Bachelor of Science Extended pages.