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Major: Palaeobiology



Department of Biological Sciences
Faculty of Science and Engineering

This major must be completed as part of an award. The general requirements for the award must be satisfied in order to graduate.

Requirements for the Major:

Completion of a minimum of 24 credit points including the following prescribed units:

Credit points

100 level

6cp from
Organisms to Ecosystems (3)
Genes to Organisms (3)
Biology in Practice (3)
or 6cp from
The Planet Earth (3)
Introduction to Oceanography (3)

200 level

History of Life (3)
3cp from
Ecology (3)
Diversity of Life (3)
Evolution (3)
Earth Surface Processes (3)
Marine Sediments: Records of Past Earth (3)
Introduction to Field Geology (3)

300 level

Palaeobiology (3)
3cp from
Invertebrate Biology (3)
Vertebrate Evolution (3)
Environmental Change (3)
6cp from
Laboratory Methods of Archaeology (3)
Invertebrate Biology (3)
Biodiversity and Conservation (3)
Vertebrate Evolution (3)
Aquatic Ecosystems (3)
Reef Evolution and Dynamics (3)
Special Interest Topics in Biology (3)
Environmental Change (3)
Marine Sediments and Energy Resources (3)
Environmental Geology (3)
Earth and Planetary Sciences Special Interest Seminar (3)


Units marked with a C are Capstone units.
Overview and Aims of the Program The main aim of the Palaeobiology Major is to provide students with a “deep time” perspective to the evolution and history of life on Earth. By studying the fossil record, students will learn more about the evolutionary relationships of animals and plants, the timing and correlation of important events in deep time, and explore fundamental questions related to fluctuating ecological and environmental parameters through time.

Coverage includes a broad survey of important invertebrate and vertebrate fossil groups, study of evolutionary processes as revealed by the fossil record, investigation of reef evolution through time (includes a field excursion to the GBR), application of fossils to reconstruct past environments, climates and behaviours, and the various ways that fossils can be used as tools to solve geological and biological problems.The melding of palaeobiology with evolutionary biology, genetics and developmental biology allows students to explore the new discipline of ‘evo-devo’ which seeks to determine the ancestral relationship between organisms and understand how developmental processes evolved.
Graduate Capabilities

The Graduate Capabilities Framework articulates the fundamentals that underpin all of Macquarie’s academic programs. It expresses these as follows:

Cognitive capabilities
(K) discipline specific knowledge and skills
(T) critical, analytical and integrative thinking
(P) problem solving and research capability
(I) creative and innovative

Interpersonal or social capabilities
(C) effective communication
(E) engaged and ethical local and global citizens
(A) socially and environmentally active and responsible

Personal capabilities
(J) capable of professional and personal judgement and initiative
(L) commitment to continuous learning

Program Learning Outcomes By the end of this program it is anticipated you should be able to:

1. show an understanding of principles of palaeobiology and apply fossils to determine the history and evolution of life on Earth (K)
2. identify the major morphological features of the most important invertebrate and vertebrate phyla in the fossil record (K, T, P)
3. describe the various applications fossils have for solving important biological, ecological, environmental and geological problems (K, T, P, I)
4. differentiate and apply principles of biostratigraphy, functional morphology, palaeoenvironmental reconstruction, taxonomy and palaeoclimatic interpretation (K, T, P, I)
5. show an understanding of principles and techniques of scientific methodology and communication through group discussion, debate and written assignments (K, T, C, A, J)
6. investigate the origins, radiation, biodiversity trends and evolutionary relationships of the dominant invertebrate and vertebrate groups in the fossil record (K, T, C, A, J)
7. utilise and apply quantitative and qualitative scientific methods and techniques to evaluate a diverse range of multidisciplinary topics including: reef formation and structure, reef zonation, carbonate sedimentology, biodiversity, ecology, taxonomy, taphonomy, symbiosis, recruitment, bioturbation and bioerosion, human impacts on reef systems and global warming (K, T, P, I, C, E, A)
8. describe the changes associated with the evolution of reefs through geological time (K, T, P, I).
Learning and Teaching Methods The fundamental tenets that underpin the teaching philosophy behind the Palaeobiology Major are to equip each student with the knowledge, technical skills, professionalism and confidence to gain employment and research capacity to succeed in their chosen field of endeavour. To achieve this, the specific aims of the major are to:
• introduce each student to the broad sweep of the history of life on Earth by focusing on the functional morphology, evolution and extinction, palaeoecology, biostratigraphy, and palaeobiogeography of the most important and informative invertebrate and vertebrate fossil groups
• provide an introduction to some of the applied aspects of life, earth and marine sciences, using relevant examples from current or recent research investigations
• provide first-hand experience of fossil material in the lab and field using cutting edge quantitative and qualitative scientific methods and techniques
• enthuse and encourage students to undertake independent critical scientific thought by using a combination of generic and specialists skills required by all scientists and how to think and express themselves “scientifically”.

The Palaeobiology Major is taught by academics with expertise in the research and teaching of palaeobiology (the history of life), palaeoecology, marine science and quantitative palaeobiology. All students undertaking the major gain broad experience and knowledge in each subject, and are exposed to innovative problem-based learning techniques, group-based work, a mixture of seminars and poster presentations, online workshops and written assignment work based on synthesis and critical evaluation directly from the primary scientific literature.

The Major has been designed so that all students gain broad experience and knowledge in each unit and are exposed to a wide variety of teaching techniques. All units are available online and are offered on campus or by Distance Education (external study) on an annual basis. Most units have a fieldwork component ranging from weekend excursions to eight-day intensive programs. All units incorporate significant proportions of research material in the form of case studies, workshops, and field programs.

The units in the Palaeobiology Major provide a carefully planned pathway designed to include a mix of field-based learning, supplemented by relevant lectures and lab sessions with high quality specimens/materials that challenge each student to solve specific problems. Field based units at 300 level allows students to complete Independent Group Projects (IGPs) which are designed to challenge small groups of students to design, formulate, collect/observe/measure data in the field and/or lab and produce a logically organised written scientific report. This is perfect initial training for advanced undergraduates who might consider completing an MRes degree in the future. The structure of the major combines theoretical and practical aspects, building competency in both discipline specific skills and knowledge, and in graduate capabilities, such as problem-solving and communication skills.

At first year level, students are introduced to the scientific method, at second year level students build their knowledge base in evolutionary and ecological principles, taxonomy of the major groups and palaeobiological techniques and applications that provide opportunities to delve into the cutting edge research streams in the discipline. At third year level, students design and test their own simple scientific research questions under staff guidance and develop and test more complex (often interdisciplinary) research questions.

All units are offered using flexible delivery utilizing a diversity of media (e.g. videos, lectures, readings, activities). Our teaching methods also aim to help students to develop “soft skills”, by enhancing communication, tolerance and interpersonal relationships as well as encouraging discussion, debate and synthesis of available data. The students thus work in an environment (lab or field) that replicates how a team of scientists might interact in the workplace, whether private industry, government agencies or academia.
Assessment All assessment tasks in each of the core palaeobiology units are designed to test capacity and competency in discipline-specific knowledge and skills. Assessments are normally spread throughout semester to enable students to build confidence and gain feedback as they learn.

Because the structure of the units is diverse, ranging from traditional weekly Lecture/Lab sessions to intensive blocks of learning at on-campus sessions or in the field (sometimes in remote locations), assessment strategies are spread across a wide spectrum. All units have at least 3 different types of assessment and these might include, but are not limited to, exams and online quizzes, written assessments (such as scientific evaluations, critical essays and comment and reply tasks), oral assessments (such as presentations, debates and discussion topics), peer review tasks, and multi-media presentations (posters, videos, blogs).
Recognition of Prior Learning

Macquarie University may recognise prior formal, informal and non-formal learning for the purpose of granting credit towards, or admission into, a program. The recognition of these forms of learning is enabled by the University’s Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) Policy (see and its associated Procedures and Guidelines. The RPL pages contain information on how to apply, links to registers, and the approval processes for recognising prior learning for entry or credit.

Information can be found at:

Support for Learning

Macquarie University aspires to be an inclusive and supportive community of learners where all students are given the opportunity to meet their academic and personal goals. The University offers a comprehensive range of free and accessible student support services which include academic advice, counselling and psychological services, advocacy services and welfare advice, careers and employment, disability services and academic skills workshops amongst others. There is also a bulk billing medical service located on campus.

Further information can be found at

Campus Wellbeing contact details:
Phone: +61 2 9850 7497

Program Standards and Quality

The program is subject to an ongoing comprehensive process of quality review in accordance with a pre-determined schedule that complies with the Higher Education Standards Framework. The review is overseen by Macquarie University's peak academic governance body, the Academic Senate and takes into account feedback received from students, staff and external stakeholders.

Graduate Destinations and Employability The focus of palaeobiology major is to provide career-specific skills and information, research training the development problem-solving and critical-thinking skills to enables graduate to enter a diversity of fields. These include:
• Museum Curator
• Research or Consultant Palaeontologist
• Research scientist
• High School Science Teacher (with the Diploma of Education)
• University academic
• Exploration geologist
• Environmental scientist/consultant
• Scientific or Technical Support Officer
• Education Officer.
Assessment Regulations

This program is subject to Macquarie University regulations, including but not limited to those specified in the Assessment Policy, Academic Honesty Policy, the Final Examination Policy and relevant University Rules. For all approved University policies, procedures, guidelines and schedules visit

Inherent requirements are the essential components of a course or program necessary for a student to successfully achieve the core learning outcomes of a course or program. Students must meet the inherent requirements to complete their Macquarie University course or program.

Inherent requirements for Macquarie University programs fall under the following categories:

Physical: The physical inherent requirement is to have the physical capabilities to safely and effectively perform the activities necessary to undertake the learning activities and achieve the learning outcomes of an award.

Cognition: The inherent requirement for cognition is possessing the intellectual, conceptual, integrative and quantitative capabilities to undertake the learning activities and achieve the learning outcomes of an award.

Communication: The inherent requirement for communication is the capacity to communicate information, thoughts and ideas through a variety of mediums and with a range of audiences.

Behavioural: The behavioural inherent requirement is the capacity to sustain appropriate behaviour over the duration of units of study to engage in activities necessary to undertake the learning activities and achieve the learning outcomes of an award.

For more information see

2019 Unit Information

When offered:
S1 Day
Permission of Executive Dean of Faculty
HSC Chinese, CHN113, CHN148