Introduction to Biosystematics

Zoology 575 (Winter) - MWF 11-11:50, Sci B 142

Instructor: Derek S. Sikes
Department of Biological Sciences
2500 University Drive NW
University of Calgary
Calgary, AB, Canada, T2N 1N4


Tree of Life Sketch - C. Darwin. Oct 1836

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Assignments and Gradings

Lab & take home exercises 30%

Midterm exam 20%

Project 10%

Final exam 40% [this will be weighted 75% on material since the midterm]

Details on some of the Lab & take home exercises are below:

Questions Bonus

Throughout the course you will inevitably ask some good questions - to reward you for these and to help me improve the course - you will prepare a list of your five best questions with their answers to be turned in on the last day of class (April 10th). This list will be worth 2% above your course grade (as bonus points).

To do this simply designate a page of your notebook for all the questions you ask regarding the material presented in class (questions can be asked in or out of class but in class is preferred so others will benefit). Record (1) the question, (2) the date, and (3) the answer I provide. During the last week of class go through your list of questions and choose your five best. These should be non-trivial questions, not "Can I see that last slide again?" For example: "If we search on unrooted trees does character polarity matter?" The idea is for you to not simply record and memorize the material in class but to think about it and question it. (Hint: the assigned readings are full of relevant topics from which you can pull questions to ask me.)

Email me your list during the last week of class so I can post everyone's questions on the course website to help with preparations for the final exam.

NOTE: to get the 2% bonus points you must follow the instructions above - the list must be of questions you have actually asked me during the term.

Lab exercises (short)

Due the following week. These are self-explanatory. Worth a total of 15% of course grade. Lab exercises for the second portion of the course will not be graded.


There will be five debates on "hot" topics of current interest in systematics. Each of you will get to present in one of these, working as a member of a team of two people. The order in which you present will be alphabetic based on your surnames. Each debate will involve two teams: one "for" and one "against." Both teams, including the rest of the class, will read all the assigned papers on the topic. Each student will speak but should not read a 'prepared statement' (although notes can be used - you should be able to describe the ideas in your own words). The debates will take place during the last 20 minutes of class - the class will vote on which side they found more convincing. Meet with your partner before preparing to avoid redundancy in presentation. Counts for 5% of course grade - note that typically everyone will get all 5% for this. Points may be lost however, if the presenter doesn't show basic familiarity with the assigned papers or if the presenter relies heavily on prepared statements (if they cannot speak using their own words).

Beetle exercise

You will be given a box with beetle specimens. Your job will be to study the specimens and attempt to determine the number of species, genera, and subfamilies you have, write diagnoses for all of them, write a couplet and tabular key, and describe one as a new species. Counts for 10% of course grade. (Points will be deducted for damage inflicted on the specimens!)


You will be required to participate in a project that will be due on April 10th. Details will be given in class. Counts for 10% of course grade.