BIOL10001: Biology of Australian Flora and Fauna

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Biology of Australian Flora and Fauna was reviewed by Oakley Germech. He is currently a second year Bachelor of Science student.

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I will be reviewing BIOL10001: Biology of Australian Flora and Fauna, a wonderful first-year science elective designed to further knowledge in botany and zoology! If you’re considering a major in a life science, it’s well worth consideration.

When was this subject taken?

I took BIOL10001 in Semester Two, 2013.

What topics were covered in this subject?

BIOL10001 covered quite a few different topics which aren’t really able to be compartmentalised into strict groups, so instead I’ll list them by lecturer. Warning; there was a lot of content in this subject, so there is a *lot* of writing down below.

Mike Bayly (Australia’s Geographic History & Australian Flora)

Mike Bayly (who is a fantastic and very helpful lecturer) took the first five lectures for this subject. The first two covered the history of Australia’s geological and geographic features; its departure from Gondwana, evidence Gondwana existed, flora and fauna we have as a result of Australia’s split from Gondwana, why we have so much fire and desert (and common ways plants have learnt to deal with this!) and so forth. The third lecture talked about rainforests of Australia, their importance and rainforest adaptations. His last two lectures went over some iconic groups of Australian plants; the families Proteaceae, Fabaceae, Mimosaceae and Myrtaceae are particularly important and he talks about various floral environmental adaptations to fire, reproductive techniques and some basic features of each family.

Some ILAs (1-3) from the subject manual complement and add to the knowledge from Mike’s lectures, but the knowledge you need from these is extremely minimal, so don’t feel pressured to take them to heart.

Mike made all this information really easy to digest and understand, and also put up online self-revision quizzes for his lectures! His questions are usually specific, but are super-straightforward and if you have any questions of your own, Mike will answer them. I really liked his section – it opened me up to botany, which I had previously disliked.

Ian Woodrow (Adaptations to Aridity + Random Rainforest Lecture)

Ian took the next six lectures for this subject, which concluded the terrestrial botany component of Flora/Fauna. He’s sadly not as interesting as Mike, and has a dull voice, but he talks slowly enough to type everything down and provides self-help quizzes just like Mike.

His first three lectures go over the invasion of the Opuntia genus cacti (prickly pear) throughout Australia in the 1800s, why cacti are so good at living in arid conditions and how we defeated them. His next two went over arid-adapted plants and the ways in which they “played the game” of “keeping cool and keeping wet”; they were basically just a list of features plants use to stay alive in super-hot, super-sunny and super-dry environments. CAM photosynthesis is a really big part of all five of these lectures and, because he researches CAM, he LOVES asking questions about it. His final lecture was about Australian rainforest plant interactions, with special emphasis on cassowaries pooping out the seeds of the Java ash, because – you guessed it – he researches this plant. His content was pretty straightforward and easy, but you will need to pay attention in the lectures.

Again, the ILAs in the manual complement but are not hugely required for this part of the course (and I was lazy and completely ignored them until after the exam).

Kath Handasyde (Animal Adaptations to Extremes and Australian Faunal Biodiversity)

Kath is a fantastically engaging lecturer who takes a big chunk of this subject (and rocks a miniature side-plait/rat-tail like no other). She talks really fast and covers a lot of content, but her lectures are worth turning up to. Nobody I know disliked her!

Kath’s first four lectures are all about animal adaptations to certain important terrestrial environments; deserts, the cute little alpine zone and (two lectures) the little-but-important rainforest. She covers the features of these areas, how they influence animal behaviour and biodiversity, what lives in them, why they’re important and some conservation issues for all of them (Kath really loves driving home the importance of recognising human destruction). She sometimes finished late and had to rush the lectures at the end, but was kind enough to not ask big questions about the things she had to cover in 30 seconds.

Kath’s next seven lectures went over important groups of terrestrial animal in Australia, with the exception of mammals. There were three lectures on invertebrates, with emphasis on ants and termites, two lectures on birds, and one lecture for each of reptiles and amphibians. She covered our diversity, where these animals live, conservation problems, some important ecosystem roles, reproductive strategies and features (especially for birds) and a bunch of miscellaneous other stuff. There is a LOT of content in these lectures and things she talked about for 2 seconds can come up on the exam! D: But Kath is really cool, so it doesn’t matter. Once again, there are ILAs to help you expand your knowledge of certain parts of her lecture portion.

Jenny Martin (Australian Mammals and Marine Fauna)

Jenny, best friends with Kath, is another great lecturer who takes two lectures on mammals, then comes back after the next lecturer for five (or six?) lectures on marine fauna and ocean systems. Warning: there is a picture of an echidna penis up on the screen in one of her lectures, so don’t make the mistake I did and respond to her asking which animal it belongs to, or you’ll be in the recording forever.

Jenny’s first two lectures are nice and easy; she covers Australian mammal groups, especially marsupials, the differences between the three subclasses of mammal and then the reproductive biology of the three groups. This is her area of expertise, so she really gets into these two lectures and they were pretty fun, even when we were learning about genitals. Fun fact: platypuses dance with each other during the mating season, and ooze milk through their skin!

Jenny’s later five lectures covered a big bunch of stuff about the ocean; ocean currents, how they influence faunal diversity and abundance, some different important marine environments, lots of terminology, interesting species of animal we have in Australian waters, ecosystem conservation and health, coral reefs and then fisheries (don’t eat tuna, guys!). Word of warning: DO NOT NEGLECT HER FISHERIES LECTURE. It seems like it won’t come up on the exam, but it comes up and she asks really specific questions about ALL her content. I did well despite this, but her big fisheries question tripped me and almost everyone else up on the final exam due to its specificity. Study Jenny’s content really thoroughly!

Jan Carey (Marine Flora of Australia)

Jan is a well-meaning but pretty boring woman who loves seaweed with an undying passion. Try and stay awake in her lectures, because she really, really loves talking about seaweed and that is unfortunately important.

Jan’s first two lectures go over marine algae; macroalgae like the brown, red and green seaweeds, and different forms of these, as well as microalgae (but not much). She also talks about the importance of these protists in marine ecosystems, and how humans also benefit from them. The end of her second lecture covered a little bit about freshwater plants and algae.

Her next two lectures talk about seagrasses, their importance in the ocean ecosystems, conservation risks and human benefits, and then coral reef flora, such as the algae that live in coral and the red seaweeds that hold the coral structures together.

Terry Walshe (Conservation Biology)

Terry is terry-ble (sorry for the pun) and has three lectures on conservation biology. Thankfully, his questions on the exam are really, really easy (but he put a 1 mark question from an ILA on there, so watch out).

Terry’s three lectures go over a bunch of weird miniature topics like estimates of species number, the Lazarus effect, an equation to predict the risk of extinction I forget the name of, how to decide which species to conserve, the SLOSS debate, stochasticity, approaches to conservation (biocentric, ecocentric and anthropocentric), tragic and taboo tradeoffs, population viability analyses and some other weird stuff. He really doesn’t assess anything that isn’t on the slides and his questions are really easy, so don’t freak out when nothing he says makes sense.

What textbooks/workbooks were required for the subject?

BIOL10001 required only two books; Biology: An Australian Focus and the subject workbook. You need the subject workbook to complete the two assignments (which are two of the ILAs; these change every year to prevent copying from older students), but the textbook is only worth buying if you have it already for core biology units. The workbook is also useful if you have time and want to learn a little bit more about Australian flora and fauna, but don’t feel pressured to do so.

What were the assessments?

1 x 3-hour exam on all subject content

Worth 60%, where about 60% of the exam is MCQ and fill-in-the-blanks, and the rest is short answer. Give yourself a LOT of time for the short answer. The exam had some really specific questions on it and the short answers were pretty broad and long; be prepared!

2 x 12.5% typed assignments

This is based on the ILAs. The coordination was terrible and the marking was a little inconsistent from Trisha Downing, and what we were expected to do was left very ambiguous. However, following complaints (vehement complaints!) from all the students this semester, I reckon there will be changes to how these assignments operate. Be careful with your referencing; I lost 1% of my total subject mark for forgetting to alphabetically order my references on the second assignment! Don’t lose marks for no reason!

1 x 15% MST, entirely multiple choice.

This covers Mike, Ian and some of Kath’s lectures. It should be fairly easy, but the questions are specific and they may ask about obscure topics only briefly covered. You get lots of time to revise; make the most of it.

Were the lectures/tutorials recorded?

Lectures are recorded but are audio-only. Tutorials are NOT recorded, but they don’t need to be. The lecture recordings are an extremely invaluable resource you should definitely listen to and take notes from during SWOTVAC; there’s a lot of content!

How did you find the subject? Did you enjoy it?

Despite Terry being pretty bad and Trisha Downing being rude and incompetent, I adored this subject, and it was probably my favourite subject of 2013. The coordinators are happy to help and enthusiastic about what they teach, the content highlights the wonderful diversity of life, and it’s one of those subjects where putting in the time really pays off and makes you feel knowledgeable, and the content is presented in a pretty user-friendly way, even if there’s a bunch of it. ILAs were frustrating, but not enough to deduct from the overall experience.

If you think Australian animals and/or plants are cool, take this subject! There are a lot of fascinating surprises, no prerequisites and with effort you will definitely do well. I’ve never been as sad about post-subject amnesia as I was when I left the exam for BIOL10001; it’s just that good.

I rate the subject 4.5 out of 5.

The handbook link for the subject is here: https://handbook.unimelb.edu.au/view/2014/BIOL10001

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Thanks for the review Oakley!

I have also done this subject, and I definitely agree that it’s a really great subject. In fact – this subject is the reason why I decided to major in Zoology. If you enjoyed this subject, I highly recommend doing the next level up (Australian Wildlife Biology). It’s also run by Kath, and it’s one of the best subjects I’ve done at uni.

Would you like to review a subject? More than happy to accept submissions. Send me an email – dhng@student.unimelb.edu.au

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