ESC3232 - The dynamic biosphere: Changing fauna and flora through geological time - 2017

6 points, SCA Band 2, 0.125 EFTSL

Undergraduate - Unit

Refer to the specific census and withdrawal dates for the semester(s) in which this unit is offered.



Organisational Unit

School of Earth, Atmosphere and Environment


Associate Professor Jeffrey Stilwell

Unit guides



  • Second semester 2017 (Day)


Investigates evolutionary patterns of Gondwana fauna, for 3.8 billion years. Topics: origin of life, metazoan origins in late Precambrian, Cambrian 'explosion' of shelled organisms, rapid evolution and mass extinctions (acritarchs, dinosaurs), biologic effect extraterrestrial impacts, volcanism, changing climate and geography (impact of developing aridity on biota, 'Snowball Earth' metazoan origins), origin of major animal groups (molluscs, marsupials). Emphasis on strengths/weaknesses of interpretive methods and how complex science can be presented to a wide audience. A field trip to a world-class fossil site will hone a wide range of field skills relevant to interpreting the record of ancient life.


On completion of this unit students will be able to:

  1. Recount some detail of the course of life on Earth from 3.8 billion years to present;
  2. Interpret the effect that tectonic plate movement and the waxing and waning of continents and ocean basins have had on the biosphere, climate and environments through time;
  3. Summarise the background to the formation of the modern biosphere of Australasia - that modern environments and climate in Australia are very atypical, and how this has impact on the future predictions of climatic and environmental change;
  4. Appraise how the fossil record can be used in the dating of rock sequences;
  5. Elucidate how the biosphere interacts significantly with the physical environment;
  6. Outline the history of research in palaeontology on the Australian continent;
  7. Illustrate how to present a research paper at a scientific meeting in both the written form and in the form of an oral presentation, how to interpret scientific research to a public audience and also how to deal with the media;
  8. Apply palaeontological and geological field knowledge to read ancient ecosystems and their relationship to Earth's environmental evolution.


Essay (2000 words): 10% + Oral Presentation: 10% + Field trip report: 15% + Examination (2 hour): 30% + Laboratory work: 35%

Students must pass the theory examination to achieve an overall pass grade. Students who do not pass the theory examination will receive a mark of 45%, unless their aggregate mark is lower in which case that mark will be recorded.

Workload requirements

  • Two 1-hour lectures per week
  • Eleven 3-hour practical sessions throughout the semester
  • One 4-day field trip in the mid-semester break (Buchan, eastern Victoria)

See also Unit timetable information

Chief examiner(s)

This unit applies to the following area(s) of study