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BOTA20004: Flora of Victoria

BOTA20004: Flora of Victoria

University of Melbourne
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10 years ago

1 x 10% in-excursion assignment, 1 x 25% 1500 word research essay + herbarium specimen, 1 x 65% final examination

Flora of Victoria, like most life science subjects, is essentially a big bunch of facts and themes you need to remember and regurgitate on the exam. However, the subject was/is probably the most well-run and well-contrasted class I have taken to date in my university degree (current subjects included). The practicals complement and add to lectures, and provide new knowledge with practical settings enabling you to commit it to memory more efficiently, and the two full-day excursions were surprisingly fun and very informative. The staff are all utterly friendly, helpful and gorgeous with not a single exception, and are willing to provide feedback, seek help from more knowledgeable staff and converse with students like equals. I used to think botany was a horrible, horrible science, but this subject proves that, even if you dislike it (and the staff are aware many people take it for 'easy' summer credit), botany is useful, ubiquitous and sometimes even fun (crazy, I know, as it might seem impossible to think of it as fun after BIOL10004's botany section).

The lectures ranged from highly interesting to somewhat boring as far as revising them went - much of the more interesting content was presented in practicals and on excursions, though I found the lectures were overall quite intriguing if you attended in person. Most of the 13 lectures were presented by Mike Bayly, who is an utterly stellar lecturer, but guest lecturers were interspersed throughout the subject's short duration; Pauline Ladiges (yes, she wrote the first year biology text) lectures on the mallee bioregion of NW Victoria, John Morgan from La Trobe gives a lecture on the surprising biology and conservation of Victorian grasslands, David Meagher lectures on bryophytes (mosses, liverworts and hornworts), Tracy Regan talks about the principles of conservation biology (by far the least interesting lecture) and Neville Walsh (the Senior Conservation Botanist at our Royal Botanic Gardens!) gives a non-assessed lecture on the role of the Gardens in botanical conservation and research; his lecture is one in which you should just sit back and listen to his stories.

Lectures covered (broadly) the biogeography and biogeographic regions of Victoria and Australia, conservation threats to Victorian plants, climatic history, environmental conditions affecting plant growth, vegetation types/plant habitat structure (and underlying environmental conditions affecting this), some soil classification (Mike agrees this is not a riveting part of his lecture), Victorian wet forests (cool temperate rainforest and wet sclerophyll forest), bryophyte biology and environmental importance, the semi-arid mallee ecosystem including vegetation types, mallee eucalypt regeneration and human impacts, Victorian grassland makeup, conservation and some surprising facts about how grassland biodiversity works (this is actually really cool), plant adaptations to fire, plant adaptations to (usually low) soil nutrient levels, plant adaptations to harsh environments, plant adaptations to biotic interactions, Victorian flora's genetic diversity (a whole lecture q_q), the Royal Botanic Gardens conservation efforts and finally principles of conservation biology (quite dull). Lecturers were overall passionate and explained everything well with reference to their slides, though do note you need to listen to lectures to get all the assessable lecture content into your head; slides are by no means comprehensive for these lecturers. Tracy's lecture and Mike's genetic diversity lecture were fairly boring, but otherwise the lectures were all good!

Practicals are three hours long and typically involve identifying plant families, genera etc. etc. Do note that the overarching content from these is assessable; don't learn the specific names of random plants you I.D., but do learn things like the characteristics of a Poaceae floret, types of fruit, varieties of capitulum in a daisy etc.. The pracs were generally well-run and quite enjoyable, but after a long day of lectures they can be very draining. There is no in-prac assessment; everything is assessed on the final exam. The final practical details some information about herbarium specimen preparation for the 25% assignment.

The two day-long excursions involved visiting vegetation communities around the Melbourne region. The first excursion was to Anglesea; we went to Distillery Creek and the Point Addis headland. Demonstrators (including Mike; try and get into his group as his knowledge is incredibly good) will take small groups of people around the walking tracks and talk about the vegetation and plant groups of the areas. Take notes, particularly for the first excursion, as the excursions are assessed on the exam! Make sure to especially be aware of the general themes as compared to specific little details, though these are useful to know and a question about which species (with scientific names given) lived in which area from the first excursion came up on the exam. There was also a short answer question about the ironbark trees from Distillery Creek. The first assignment is handed out and completed on the day of the excursion, but you get plenty of time to answer the quite simple questions. I botched my written answer up and still got 85%, so it should be fine! The second excursion was to Mt. Macedon (near Sunbury) and to a remnant mallee woodland in Melton. There was a lot less assessable content for these, as we looked at transects and estimated % cover of various plant species and types - this isn't something that can really be assessed on an exam. There was a single MCQ on both excursion sites for this second excursion on the exam, but nothing asking specifically about the areas and their plants. Still, it can't hurt to revise!

The exam was very fair and assessed about as large a variety of themes as could be expected in a two-hour exam (I reckon a three-hour exam for this subject would be far more preferable). There were a variety of MCQ and fill-in-the-blank questions to cover more specific details and nitty-gritty anatomy of reproductive structures etc., and another ~50% of marks were dedicated to broader themes in the short answer and essay sections. You will need to write two essays on two broad topics - you get a choice between two prompts for each essay, which is great news for those of you who don't take things like population-wide genetic studies to heart (like me) but actually remember everything about how mistletoes transport seeds and how buzz-pollinated flowers reproduce! If you know and understand all the subject content, this exam should be very fair. Just make sure to be relevant with your essays and revise practical and excursion content thoroughly as well.

The 25% assignment (a monograph on a species of Victorian plant) was the bane of this subject - a 1500 word research essay and accompanying herbarium specimen. DO NOT BORROW BOOKS FROM THE BIOMEDICAL LIBRARY - be courteous and either photograph pages then study them at home, or use them within the library. There were 80 undergraduate students doing the same assignment, and some books used by all had only one or two copies. Note that postgraduates (~40-50 in our cohort) did a different, more rigorous research essay assignment.
For the herbarium specimen, all instructions are given in the lab manual and online in the form of the herbarium how-to document from the UoM herbarium (Google it!). Make sure to cut your plant early and change newspapers when pressing it, make sure to give your OWN detailed observations on the label and follow all herbarium mounting practices properly. Also try and aim for an aesthetically pleasing end product! I have a sample specimen that received full marks which I can photograph if anyone wants a guide as to what to do. Mounting multiple parts of the same plant is also okay - refer to the herbarium how-to guide if you have any questions, or email Kathy Vohs, Mike Bayly, Gill etc. failing that. As far as the research aspect goes, the staff are looking for well-researched assignments, and most of the species you'll be studying do not have much information available in the mainstream domain, so be prepared to book-hunt and journal-hunt quite a bit (though some species have next to no journal information, you can indicate this in one of the sections in the assignment). Tips to a good essay, according to a demonstrator I asked, are answering all the questions listed as dot points in the manual thoroughly (including the illustration point), showing extensive and wide research, clarity of English expression (!!!) and going a little further than is expected in finding and presenting your information. Pictures are not required, but I took and attached photos as an appendix to show some of the features. Also note that the description of the plant should be largely based on your OWN observations, and should not come from a textbook. Make it clear that it's you who is describing the plant. The assignment might be a bit of a time sink, but you have a while to do it (from the end of the subject until Week One's Friday), so getting a good mark should be no problem!

Overall, despite occasional moments of boredom during pre-exam cramming sessions, this subject was wonderfully organised, diverse in terms of teaching approaches taken (pracs, excursions and lectures), full of incredibly kind staff and fairly assessed. The research assignment being due on the Friday of week one meant I became behind early and have stayed behind all semester, but it's totally worth it - this subject is great, even if you hate botany, and not extremely hard to get high credit for either (unless you're like simpak and want a score well above 90, which is rare due to the style of assessment and exam having many written open-ended questions). If you're interested in biology, Australian plants/geography/history/geology or just getting some credit over summer, I can highly, highly recommend this subject. It was so well-run that two of my botany-hating third year friends are now taking a botany class each this year; I think this proves that BOTA20004 is pretty fantastic. Good luck!
Lectopia Enabled
Yes, and screen capture is included!
Mike Bayly, Pauline Ladiges, David Meagher, Neville Walsh, Tracy Regan, John Morgan
Past Exams Available
No, but a small number of practice questions were provided. Just study everything and you should be fine.
5 out of 5
Textbook Recommendation
None required - you purchase a subject manual prior to starting the subject. If you have any of Leon Costermans's books, they'll come in handy. You also need a dissection kit for practical classes.
13 x 75-minute long lectures (Neville Walsh's is not assessed), 2 x full day excursions (content assessed), 6 x 3-hr practical classes
Year & Semester Of Completion
2014, February (summer semester)
Your Mark / Grade
95 (H1)

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