The Dame Charmian O'Connor Faculty of Science - Leading creativity and innovation in the sciences

Ecology, Evolution and Behaviour


Students who take the Ecology, Evolution and Behaviour option will:

  • Gain a superior theoretical understanding of the principles of ecology that underpin most other courses in this BSc
  • Have the skills and knowledge to tackle any ecological issue or problem, from pure research questions to problem-solving conservation or harvest management issues

Core papers


Terrestrial Ecology (BIOSCI 396)

In this course the front lines of experimental and theoretical population, community and whole ecosystem ecology are explored.

The latest research is included on topics such as ecosystem functioning, predator-prey theory, species co-existence, trophic interactions and decomposition, spatial dynamics and the importance of scale. We also profile two of the greatest ongoing debates in NZ ecology: the ‘beech gap’ and divaricating plants: moa or climate?

BIOSCI 396 students explore tree fern trunks as establishment sites for seedlings, and the effects of tree ferns on invertebrate diversity and ecosystem processes, such as litter decomposition and seedling recruitment. You will learn to set up seedling plots and identify seedlings, use litter traps, use litter bag techniques for comparing litter decomposition rates, sample and identify invertebrates, determine establishment success for tree species with different dispersal modes.


Evolution of Genes, Populations and Species (BIOSCI 322)

An understanding of evolutionary processes underpins all biological disciplines, including ecology. In this course evolutionary pathways and proximate mechanisms are examined at all levels of organization: the gene, the population, and the species.

During this course you will learn from experts in their field about Darwinian evolution and the Modern Synthesis, phylogenetics, molecular evolution, evolutionary population genetics, selection and adaptation, genome evolution and historical biogeography. New Zealand examples are used in both lectures and practical labs to illustrate how research into molecular ecology and evolution is incorporated into conservation ecology and management of threatened species, such as the Hector’s Dolphin.


Animal Behaviour (BIOSCI 337)

Animal behavior is the scientific study of everything animals do, from single-celled organisms, to invertebrates, fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals. This course spans all levels of analysis to provide research-based examples and theoretical concepts on how and why animals behave the way they do, and considers topics such as how animals find and defend resources, avoid predators, choose mates, reproduce and care for their young, and how they might adapt to ecological unpredictability, including global climate change.

Laboratories focus on understanding the mechanism of behavioural flexibility and decision rules, while residential field trips introduce concepts of observation, experimentation, and quantitative behavioural data analysis on individuals and populations. Students will gain insights into New Zealand biodiversity and gain valuable skills for potential research as summer students, ecological consultants or in postgraduate studies.



Employment opportunities


Completion of this option could lead to employment in private, governmental (national and local council), not-for-profit (national and international) or academic consulting, teaching, or service opportunities.

Specific areas include:

  • Ecological impact assessment, including critical writing and quantitative evaluation
  • Endangered, native, and invasive species surveillance
  • Pest control and habitat restoration
  • Grant writing and project planning for public and private foundations and community groups
  • Teaching primary and secondary level students
  • Research in terrestrial and other ecosystems
  • Employment as research assistants in academic and for-profit organizations, and
  • Gaining valuable experience for future postgraduate studies nationally or internationally