Biology (Version 8.4)


Biology is the study of the fascinating diversity of life as it has evolved and as it interacts and functions. Investigation of biological systems and their interactions, from cellular processes to ecosystem dynamics, has led to biological knowledge and understanding that enable us to explore and explain everyday observations, find solutions to biological issues, and understand the processes of biological continuity and change over time.


Structure of Biology

Biology is the study of the fascinating diversity of life as it has evolved and as it interacts and functions. Investigation of biological systems and their interactions, from cellular processes to ecosystem dynamics, has led to biological knowledge and understanding that enable us to explore and explain everyday observations, find solutions to biological issues, and understand the processes of biological continuity and change over time.


Links to Foundation to Year 10

The senior secondary Biology curriculum continues to develop student understanding and skills from across the three strands of the F-10 Australian Curriculum: Science. In the Science Understanding strand, the Biology curriculum draws on knowledge and understanding from across the four sub-strands of Biological, Physical, Chemical, and Earth and Space sciences.


Representation of Cross-curriculum Priorities

While the significance of the cross-curriculum priorities for Biology varies, there are opportunities for teachers to select contexts that incorporate the key concepts from each priority.


Achievement standards


Unit 1: Biodiversity and the interconnectedness of life

Unit 1: Biodiversity and the interconnectedness of life Description

The current view of the biosphere as a dynamic system composed of Earth’s diverse, interrelated and interacting ecosystems developed from the work of eighteenth and nineteenth century naturalists, who collected, classified, measured and mapped the distribution of organisms and environments around the world. In this unit, students investigate and describe a number of diverse ecosystems, exploring the range of biotic and abiotic components to understand the dynamics, diversity and underlying unity of these systems.

Students develop an understanding of the processes involved in the movement of energy and matter in ecosystems. They investigate ecosystem dynamics, including interactions within and between species, and interactions between abiotic and biotic components of ecosystems. They also investigate how measurements of abiotic factors, population numbers and species diversity, and descriptions of species interactions, can form the basis for spatial and temporal comparisons between ecosystems. Students use classification keys to identify organisms, describe the biodiversity in ecosystems, investigate patterns in relationships between organisms, and aid scientific communication.

Through the investigation of appropriate contexts, students explore how international collaboration, evidence from multiple disciplines and the use of ICT and other technologies have contributed to the study and conservation of national, regional and global biodiversity. They investigate how scientific knowledge is used to offer valid explanations and reliable predictions, and the ways in which scientific knowledge interacts with social, economic, cultural and ethical factors.

Fieldwork is an important part of this unit, providing valuable opportunities for students to work together to collect first-hand data and to experience local ecosystem interactions. In order to understand the interconnectedness of organisms, the physical environment and human activity, students analyse and interpret data collected through investigation of a local environment and from sources relating to other Australian, regional and global environments.

Unit 1: Biodiversity and the interconnectedness of life Learning Outcomes

By the end of this unit, students:

  • understand how classification helps to organise, analyse and communicate data about biodiversity
  • understand that ecosystem diversity and dynamics can be described and compared with reference to biotic and abiotic components and their interactions
  • understand how theories and models have developed based on evidence from multiple disciplines; and the uses and limitations of biological knowledge in a range of contexts
  • use science inquiry skills to design, conduct, evaluate and communicate investigations into biodiversity and flows of matter and energy in a range of ecosystems
  • evaluate, with reference to empirical evidence, claims about relationships between and within species, diversity of and within ecosystems, and energy and matter flows
  • communicate biological understanding using qualitative and quantitative representations in appropriate modes and genres.

Unit 1: Biodiversity and the interconnectedness of life Content Descriptions

Science Inquiry Skills (Biology Unit 1)

Identify, research and construct questions for investigation; propose hypotheses; and predict possible outcomes (ACSBL001)

Design investigations, including the procedure/s to be followed, the materials required, and the type and amount of primary and/or secondary data to be collected; conduct risk assessments; and consider research ethics, including animal ethics (ACSBL002)

Conduct investigations, including using ecosystem surveying techniques, safely, competently and methodically for the collection of valid and reliable data (ACSBL003)

Represent data in meaningful and useful ways; organise and analyse data to identify trends, patterns and relationships; qualitatively describe sources of measurement error, and uncertainty and limitations in data; and select, synthesise and use evidence to make and justify conclusions (ACSBL004)

Interpret a range of scientific and media texts, and evaluate processes, claims and conclusions by considering the quality of available evidence; and use reasoning to construct scientific arguments (ACSBL005)

Select, construct and use appropriate representations, including classification keys, food webs and biomass pyramids, to communicate conceptual understanding, solve problems and make predictions (ACSBL006)

Communicate to specific audiences and for specific purposes using appropriate language, nomenclature, genres and modes, including scientific reports (ACSBL007)

Science as a Human Endeavour (Units 1 and 2)

Science is a global enterprise that relies on clear communication, international conventions, peer review and reproducibility (ACSBL008)

Development of complex models and/or theories often requires a wide range of evidence from multiple individuals and across disciplines (ACSBL009)

Advances in science understanding in one field can influence other areas of science, technology and engineering (ACSBL010)

The use of scientific knowledge is influenced by social, economic, cultural and ethical considerations (ACSBL011)

The use of scientific knowledge may have beneficial and/or harmful and/or unintended consequences (ACSBL012)

Scientific knowledge can enable scientists to offer valid explanations and make reliable predictions (ACSBL013)

Scientific knowledge can be used to develop and evaluate projected economic, social and environmental impacts and to design action for sustainability (ACSBL014)

Science Understanding

Describing biodiversity

Examples in context

Support materials only that illustrate some possible contexts for exploring Science as a Human Endeavour concepts in relation to Science Understanding content.

Technology as a tool to measure, analyse and monitor biodiversity

Developments in software, computing and supercomputing have been important in ecological classification as they have enabled scientists to classify regions according to large sets of biotic and abiotic data and to compare data over time (ACSBL010). Supercomputers have also enabled the development of large, complex models to analyse species data collected from multiple individuals in a range of locations, and to infer relationships between species, including their shared evolutionary past (ACSBL009). Advances in remote sensing radar imagery and satellite tracking in real time have enabled scientists to measure and monitor populations and play a significant role in surveying and monitoring large or inaccessible ecosystems.

International biodiversity protection

International agreements about biodiversity protection, such as the World Heritage Convention, are based on the premise that local, regional and international biodiversity represent a global resource, vital for human survival, that should be maintained for future generations (ACSBL008). The World Heritage Convention is designed to ensure the protection of natural and cultural heritage and encourage international cooperation in the conservation of biodiversity. Sites are selected as natural World Heritage based on a range of criteria, including, but not limited to, conservation of biodiversity (ACSBL011). Selected sites are monitored to ensure continued integrity, protection and management, including evaluation of projected economic, social and environmental impacts on the site (ACSBL014). Within the international scientific community, methods and findings related to biodiversity monitoring and analysis are shared through peer reviewed articles in international journals (ACSBL014).

Biodiversity targets

Setting agreed biodiversity targets has been proposed as one way to achieve positive international action towards biodiversity conservation and encourage accountability (ACSBL008). Setting such targets requires a broad range of scientific knowledge in gathering data, identifying indicators and ensuring that measurement is valid and reliable and will inform improved ecosystem management (ACSBL009). The 2010 Biodiversity Target was endorsed by the World Summit on Sustainable Development and aimed to achieve a significant reduction in the rate of biodiversity loss at global, regional and national levels. Measurement of attainment of this target required international agreement regarding baseline data, acceptable timescales, acceptable rates and appropriate measures for monitoring and evaluating the rate of biodiversity loss (ACSBL008).

Biodiversity includes the diversity of species and ecosystems; measures of biodiversity rely on classification and are used to make comparisons across spatial and temporal scales (ACSBL015)

Biological classification is hierarchical and based on different levels of similarity of physical features, methods of reproduction and molecular sequences (ACSBL016)

Biological classification systems reflect evolutionary relatedness between groups of organisms (ACSBL017)

Most common definitions of species rely on morphological or genetic similarity or the ability to interbreed to produce fertile offspring in natural conditions – but, in all cases, exceptions are found (ACSBL018)

Ecosystems are diverse, composed of varied habitats and can be described in terms of their component species, species interactions and the abiotic factors that make up the environment (ACSBL019)

Relationships and interactions between species in ecosystems include predation, competition, symbiosis and disease (ACSBL020)

In addition to biotic factors, abiotic factors including climate and substrate can be used to describe and classify environments (ACSBL021)

Ecosystem dynamics

Examples in context

Support materials only that illustrate some possible contexts for exploring Science as a Human Endeavour concepts in relation to Science Understanding content.

Indigenous knowledge of ecosystem interactions and change

Indigenous knowledge of environmental change and interactions between abiotic and biotic elements of ecosystems in local contexts has developed over thousands of years and provides valuable data for understanding ecosystem dynamics (ACSBL009). Some Indigenous knowledge is represented in Indigenous art and can include evidence of past biodiversity and climate change that supports data from the fossil record. Indigenous knowledge also includes land management practices that can maintain ecosystems at specific successional points. These practices are often used to complement practices in conservation areas, where land management decisions reflect scientific, social, cultural and ethical considerations (ACSBL011).

Marine reserves

Southeast Asia is a global epicentre for marine diversity; the establishment of marine reserves aims to contribute to the long-term conservation of marine ecosystems and protect marine biodiversity. Identification and classification of marine reserve areas requires consideration of enforcement logistics, the multiple uses of the area (for example, fishing, recreation, tourism), indigenous peoples’ usage rights, and the extent of the area required to contribute to local and global biodiversity conservation (ACSBL011). Scientific knowledge based on local data collection and analysis, computer simulation of future scenarios and analysis of analogous scenarios is required to analyse these factors, classify areas and predict the likelihood that the reserve will successfully protect marine biodiversity (ACSBL013).

Keystone species and conservation

The concept of a keystone species, a species that is particularly important in maintaining the structure of an ecological community, was first introduced by Robert T Paine in the late 1960s. Data supporting the theory has been collected by a large number of scientists from across a wide range of ecosystems and for a wide range of species (ACSBL009). Some biologists have advocated for keystone species to be special targets for conservation efforts and keystone species theory has informed many conservation strategies. However there are differing views about the effectiveness of single-species conservation (such as keystone species, flagship species or umbrella species) in maintaining complex ecosystem dynamics (ACSBL012).

The biotic components of an ecosystem transfer and transform energy originating primarily from the sun to produce biomass, and interact with abiotic components to facilitate biogeochemical cycling, including carbon and nitrogen cycling; these interactions can be represented using food webs, biomass pyramids, water and nutrient cycles (ACSBL022)

Species or populations, including those of microorganisms, fill specific ecological niches; the competitive exclusion principle postulates that no two species can occupy the same niche in the same environment for an extended period of time (ACSBL023)

Keystone species play a critical role in maintaining the structure of the community; the impact of a reduction in numbers or the disappearance of keystone species on an ecosystem is greater than would be expected based on their relative abundance or total biomass (ACSBL024)

Ecosystems have carrying capacities that limit the number of organisms (within populations) they support, and can be impacted by changes to abiotic and biotic factors, including climatic events (ACSBL025)

Ecological succession involves changes in the populations of species present in a habitat; these changes impact the abiotic and biotic interactions in the community, which in turn influence further changes in the species present and their population size (ACSBL026)

Ecosystems can change dramatically over time; the fossil record and sedimentary rock characteristics provide evidence of past ecosystems and changes in biotic and abiotic components (ACSBL027)

Human activities (for example, over-exploitation, habitat destruction, monocultures, pollution) can reduce biodiversity and can impact on the magnitude, duration and speed of ecosystem change (ACSBL028)

Models of ecosystem interactions (for example, food webs, successional models) can be used to predict the impact of change and are based on interpretation of and extrapolation from sample data (for example, data derived from ecosystem surveying techniques); the reliability of the model is determined by the representativeness of the sampling (ACSBL029)