Evolutionary Biology - Course Advice - Biological Sciences - University of Canterbury - New Zealand

Studying Evolutionary Biology at Canterbury

monarch butterflyTools and technologies of evolutionary biology underpin all the biological sciences, including molecular biology, cell biology, ecology, biodiversity and behaviour. A course in evolution may cover topics as diverse as understanding HIV; measuring natural selection; investigating how new species arise, and making predictions about the survival of rare species and the spread of invasive ones. The common theme is the study of how organisms change and adapt to their local environment.

Evolution compliments Ecology in areas such as conservation biology, the study of plant and animal invasions, and predicting the potential spread of GMOs. Evolution compliments Behaviour in explaining topics such as sexual selection and social behaviour. Evolution is also fundamental to the designing of effective drugs and predicting the spread of new diseases such as Zika virus.

Career paths

Graduates who specialise in Evolutionary Biology generally also take courses in Ecology and Behaviour. Some of our recent graduates have taken up careers like:

  • Private environmental consultancy work
  • Botanist/Zoologist at Landcare Research involved in biodiversity studies and the management of New Zealand biodiversity
  • Botanist/Zoologist for the Department of Conservation monitoring and managing rare species
  • Biosecurity officer for MAF involved in predicting and managing the spread of introduced organisms
  • Scientist for AgResearch working in biocontrol
  • Scientist/Technician with Crop & Food Research involving plant breeding
  • Technician at the National Herbarium


  • BSc (Hons) - Students complete a fourth year of study comprising four 400-level papers and a research project.
  • PGDipSc - Students complete a fourth year of study comprising four 400-level papers.
  • MSc - Students complete a fourth year of study comprising four 400-level papers (part I), followed by a one year research project (part II), written up as a thesis.
  • PhD - Students complete a 3 year research project written up as a thesis. Entry is after successful completion of either BSc(Hons) or an MSc.

Planning Your Degree

Below is a guide to help you select courses that will give you a well rounded degree in evolutionary biology.

Year 1


  • BIOL 111 Cellular Biology & Biochemistry
  • BIOL 112 Ecology, Evolution & Conservation
  • BIOL 113 Diversity of Life
  • BCHM 112 Structure and Reactivity in Chemistry and Biochemistry [1] (aka CHEM 112)
  • STAT 101 Statistics 1


Year 2



Year 3



  • BIOL 309 Experimental Design and Data Analysis for Biologists [3]
  • BIOL 333 Molecular Genetics
  • BIOL 335 Bioinformatics and Genomics
  • BIOL 377 Global Change and Biosecurity
  • BIOL 378 Conservation and Ecology of Populations
  • BIOL 383 Behavioural Ecology

[1] If you have fewer than 14 credits of NCEA level 3 chemistry take CHEM 114 before starting BCHM/CHEM 112.
[2] MATH101 is strongly recommended unless you have good NCEA level 3 maths credits.
[3] BIOL309 is essential for postgraduate biology.