BIO431 Avian Systematics and Biogeography (8)

This subject provides an overview of evolutionary biology, taxonomy, systematics and biogeography with an emphasis on their application to the study of birds. Included in this subject are a number of fundamental topics: the origin of birds as a whole and their relationship to dinosaurs and other reptiles, the early evolution and radiation of birds, and current ideas about the relationships of modern birds. It examines distributions of different bird groups, explores large-scale patterns in diversity, and the basis of these patterns. Results of recent research are combined with existing theories to give an up-to-date introduction to this dynamic field, and an insight into the history of evolutionary ornithology. The subject has a residential school. On completion students have a comprehensive understanding of the principles of phylogenetic systematics and can read and critically interpret cladograms.

Subject Outlines
Current CSU students can view Subject Outlines for recent sessions. Please note that Subject Outlines and assessment tasks are updated each session.


* Offering has a residential school. Please view following information for further details.

Session 2 (60)
Online *
Albury-Wodonga Campus

Continuing students should consult the SAL for current offering details: BIO431. Where differences exist between the Handbook and the SAL, the SAL should be taken as containing the correct subject offering details.

Subject Information

Grading System



One session


School of Environmental Sciences

Enrolment Restrictions

This subject is only available to students enrolled in a postgraduate course.

Assumed Knowledge

Assumes knowledge equivalent to the content of  BIO430 or BIO433

Learning Outcomes

Upon successful completion of this subject, students should:
  • be able to discuss the principles of avian systematics including the theories and current ideas about the origin and early radiation of birds and the various species concepts and their application to ornithology
  • be able to describe extant orders of birds, their phylogenetic and biogeographical origins, their distinguishing characteristics and apply the methods and processes by which these phylogenies and taxonomies are deduced
  • be able to apply different approaches to studying distribution patterns, and understand the interplay between phylogeny and biogeography
  • be able to explain how modern evolutionary and landscape processes affect the population genetics of birds
  • be able to demonstrate a comprehensive understanding of the principles of phylogenetic systematics and can read and critically interpret cladograms
  • be able to use a phylogeny to infer patterns of character evolution and selection
  • be able to apply their knowledge of avian systematics in order to describe the evolutionary origins of Australian bird taxa


This subject will cover the following topics:
  • the origin of birds
  • phylogenetic and biogeographical origins of extinct and extant birds
  • classification of extant birds: orders and their characteristics
  • systematics: methods of distinguishing taxa and determining descent
  • species concepts: the philosophical and practical issues associated with species recognition
  • natural selection and population genetics on a landscape scale: modern examples
  • bird classification and identification of Australian species
  • biogeographical theory and applications
  • biogeography of Australian birds

Residential School

This subject contains a 3 day Compulsory Residential School.

Evolutionary biology is a complex and dynamic discipline with its own concepts and specialised terms. The Residential School provides a comprehensive primer on key concepts (natural and sexual selection, adaptation, character evolution, phylogeny reconstruction and species concepts) and develops a framework within which to embed these ideas. Specific exercises include phylogeny reconstruction, character mapping, and exploration of macro-evolutionary patterns in birds using bird specimens. One of these exercises (mapping characters on a phylogeny) is essential for completion of the second assignment in this subject. Most of these activities are group-based including presentations to the class. The final component of this Residential School is research seminars by professional ornithologists, both by CSU staff and visiting researchers.

Special Resources

This subject has a 3 day residential school and students are required to do their travel arrangements.


Current Students

For any enquiries about subject selection or course structure please contact Student Central or or phone on 1800 275 278.

Prospective Students

For further information about Charles Sturt University, or this course offering, please contact info.csu on 1800 275 278 (free call within Australia) or enquire online.

The information contained in the 2018 CSU Handbook was accurate at the date of publication: August 2018. The University reserves the right to vary the information at any time without notice.