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GEOL272 Evolution of New Zealand Biota

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Evolution, extinction and other principles of paleontology; fossils, paleoecology and ancient environments; New Zealand Cenozoic fossils and stratigraphy.

Evolution of NZ Biota as revealed by fossils (invertebrates, vertebrates, plants) and some living groups:

  • What's distinctive about the biota from ancient Zealandia to modern NZ
  • Principles and methods of paleontology, evolution and extinction and historical developments
  • Paleoecology and paleoenvironments
  • Biogeographic signals in the NZ biota present and past

Paper title Evolution of New Zealand Biota
Paper code GEOL272
Subject Geology
EFTS 0.15
Points 18 points
Teaching period Semester 1 (On campus)
Domestic Tuition Fees (NZD) $1,092.15
International Tuition Fees (NZD) $5,004.75

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(EAOS 111 or EAOX 111) and (GEOL 112 or GEOX 112 or 18 BIOL points)
GEOL 372
Schedule C

Background requirements: 100-level stratigraphy and paleontology. An interest in the modern NZ biota (plants or animals) would be a significant help, though it is not essential.
GEOL272 is for students in their second year of a geology or equivalent degree. GEOL372 is for students in their third year of a geology or equivalent degree.


Teaching staff
Professor Ewan Fordyce
Paper Structure

The NZ biota, present and past, including:

  • Physiography, climate, ocean circulation
  • Biogeographic signals

Principles and methods of paleontology, including:

  • Development of historical geology
  • Evolution before and after Darwin, extinction
  • Systematics, phylogeny, cladistics
  • Structure and function

Paleoecology and paleoenvironment, including:

  • Principles of ecology and paleoecology
  • Environments past and present
  • Fossils and sedimentology
  • Taxonomic uniformitarianism - fossils and paleoenvironments
  • Marine paleoecology
  • Plants
  • Vertebrates
  • Trace fossils

Biogeographic signals in the NZ biota, including some combination of:

  • Moas
  • Beech trees
  • Land mammals
  • Cretaceous reptiles
  • Triassic ecosystems

Assessment is approximately an even split between internal (ongoing during the semester) and external (final exam). The final examination for GEOL372 differs from that for GEOL272, to reflect greater background knowledge and higher expectations of students taking the paper at 300-level.

Teaching Arrangements

Two lectures and one 3-hour laboratory per week.

One-day weekend field trip to South Otago (to study Triassic-Jurassic and Paleocene fossils and strata), normally in the first or second weekend of semester;

One-day weekend field trip to South Canterbury/Waitaki Valley (paleoecology exercise), normally about mid-semester.


Textbooks are not required for this paper. Suggested readings will be identified in the peer-reviewed literature. You should also read relevant sections in the Encylopedia of Geology, accessible under E-journals/E-books via the Library web page.

Graduate Attributes Emphasised
Communication, Critical thinking, Environmental literacy, Information literacy, Research, Self-motivation, Teamwork.
View more information about Otago's graduate attributes.
Learning Outcomes

Students should gain understanding of the main macrofossil groups found in New Zealand and some key modern groups and their application to biostratigraphy, paleoecology (especially depositional settings, emphasising stratigraphy and outcrop-level sedimentology), paleoclimates, and paleobiogeography (especially related to links with Gondwana and Gondwana breakup).

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Semester 1

Teaching method
This paper is taught On Campus
Learning management system


Stream Days Times Weeks
A1 Monday 08:00-08:50 9-13, 15-16, 18-22
Monday 12:00-12:50 9-13, 15-16, 18-22


Stream Days Times Weeks
A1 Monday 14:00-16:50 9-13, 15-16, 18-22