Issue 10
Monday, 20 June 2016
Charles Darwin University
MOOC participants can explore the distribution, habitat and diet of the various Darwin Finches
MOOC participants can explore the distribution, habitat and diet of the various Darwin Finches

Finch beak holds key to Darwin’s theory

By Leanne Miles

A small bird that played an important part in the inception of Charles Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection is the inspiration behind new content in a free online course delivered by Charles Darwin University, which will be launched this week.

The study of Darwin’s Finches found on the Galapagos Islands has been continued by Princeton University evolutionary biologists and CDU’s 2016 Charles Darwin Scholars emeritus professors Peter and Rosemary Grant more than 150 years after Darwin first recognised their significance.

The Grants have travelled to the Galapagos Islands every summer for the past 40 years to study the finches and are known internationally for some of the most remarkable observations in the history of field research on how species arise.

As part of CDU’s MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) entitled “Charles Darwin, Evolution and Tropical Australia”, the Grants will reveal their ground-breaking research, demonstrating rapid evolution in response to changes in food supply.

“There are 13 finch species found on the Galapagos with varying size and shaped beaks depending on the type of habitat they live in and what they eat,” Professor Rosemary Grant said. “Our research has illuminated how this diversity arose and what this means for the study of the formation of new species.”

The free six-week course is open to anyone with a computer and internet access and will provide an introduction to naturalist Charles Darwin, the theory of evolution, Alfred Wallace and biogeography, and an overview of adaptation of tropical organisms in Northern Australia.

There are no prerequisites for participating in the MOOC and people can take part as much or as little as they wish.

Through the course, participants can engage in a range of informative readings, videos, animation and interactive timelines on topics that anyone interested in the theory of evolution and how it changed the course of biological sciences will find fascinating.

This free public MOOC, introduced by Chris Darwin, great grandson of Charles Darwin, and featuring researchers from CDU, will be available from June 24.

The MOOC is available at W: