Biodiversity and evolution


Earth and Environmental Sciences (2nd level)

Biodiversity, ecology and evolution (2nd Cycle)
Karstology (2nd Cycle)
Paleobiology and sedimentary geology (2nd Cycle)

Course code: MT003
Year of study: 1st year

Course principal:
Prof. Andraž Čarni, Ph. D.


Workload: lectures 60 hours, seminar 20 hours, tutorial 30 hours, individual work 120 hours.
Course type: mandatory
Languages: Slovene, English
Learning and teaching methods: lectures, seminar, tutorial, individual work


Course syllabus (download)


First-cycle Bologna degree or a university degree in the natural sciences.


Content (Syllabus outline):

  • The definitions of biodiversity
  • Elements of biodiversity (ecological, organismic and genetic)
  • Measurement of biodiversity, the use of different methods for its quantification
  • Development of biodiversity in the past, the speciation and extinction
  • The spatial distribution of biodiversity, hot and cold spots, their causes
  • The importance of biodiversity for mankind, direct and indirect importance
  • Human impact on biodiversity, global changes and species extinction
  • Preserving biodiversity, conservation of species and habitats
  • Biotic responses to global changes
  • Genetic variation and mutation, migration (gene flow), random genetic drift, sex
  • Genetic variation and natural selection, heritability, fitness, adaptation
  • Sexual selection
  • Phenotypic evolution and basics in quantitative genetics
  • Coevolution
  • Species concept and speciation, reproductive isolation
  • Island biogeography theory
  • Phylogenetics and comparative methods (fossil records, molecular clock, phylogenetic methods, understanding phylogenies; trait reconstruction analyses)
  • Macroevolution (pace of evolution, clade diversification, adaptive radiation, mass extinction)



  • Gaston, J. G., Spicer, J. I. (2004). Biodiversity: an introduction. Blackwell Publishing. Chapters: 1 – 6.
  • Futuyma, D. J. (2009). Evolution. Second Edition. Sinauer Associates Inc. Chapters 1 – 8, 10 – 15, 17 – 19, 22.
  • Selected articles from scientific journals.


Objectives and competences:

The purpose of the course is to acquaint students with the concepts of biodiversity and evolution. Biodiversity is the variety of life and is reflected at all levels of organization of living organisms: genetic, organismic and ecological. Students will learn about the basic concepts of biodiversity, measurement of biodiversity, its history and processes that have contributed to its occurrence, spatial distribution of biodiversity, impacts of human activities on biodiversity and the possibilities for its conservation. They will also learn how climate change and other environmental changes caused by human activities, impact biodiversity on Earth. The aim is for students to develop an understanding of biodiversity, ways of its evaluation, processes, importance for human society and the ways of its conservation. The second part of the course will cover the basic concepts in evolutionary biology and basic mechanisms of evolutionary change. Students will learn the relationships between genetic variation, heritability, fitness, natural and sexual selection in the context of adaptations and evolutionary change. They will learn about phenotypic evolution and the basics of quantitative genetics (theoretically and computative). They will get familiar with different species concepts, causes and patterns of speciation. They will learn how two (or more) species reciprocally affect each other’s evolution. They will further learn how to reconstruct phylogenetic trees and to understand phylogenies. Students will learn about comparative methods, macroevolutionary patterns and how scientists investigate deep history.


Intended learning outcomes:

  • Understanding the fundamental elements of biodiversity, namely ecological (population, niches, habitats, ecosystems, landscapes, biomes), organismic (individuals, populations, species, genera, families, orders and kingdoms) and genetic (nucleotides, genes, chromosomes, individuals, and populations).
  • Knowledge of processes in the past, which led to the present biodiversity or influenced its changes in the past (adaptation and organic evolution, speciation, phylogenetic systematics).
  • Knowledge of these processes is important for understanding the present state of biodiversity and its development in the future.
  • Given that biodiversity is not evenly distributed through space, the students will learn about the spatial distribution of biodiversity, its hot and cold spots and causes for their appearance, gradients of biodiversity and the mechanisms that drive it.
  • Knowing the importance of biodiversity for humanity, its “value” in a broader sense; its direct and indirect value and the link between biodiversity and functioning of ecosystems. Specifically, we will highlight the negative human impact on the loss of species and ecosystems (habitat), and methods for the conservation of biodiversity.
  • Understanding of fundamental principles in modern evolutionary biology: mechanisms of evolutionary change, importance of genetic variation, heritability, fitness, natural and sexual for evolution and adaptation.
  • Understanding basics of phenotypic evolution and quantitative genetics (theoretically and computative)
  • Knowledge of species concept, causes and patterns of speciation.
  • Understanding phylogenetics, knowing how to reconstruct phylogenetic trees and caution in their interpretation.
  • Knowledge of comparative methods, macroevolutionary patterns and methods for inference of the past processes.
  • Skills in reading and interpreting literature on theoretical aspects of biodiversity and evolutionary biology, as well as summarizing and presenting these in written and oral forms (seminar).
  • Knowledge of selected software tools and applications for results analysis and knowledge of research trends in evolutionary biology.

Oral exam (80 %), written paper (20 %).