Plants in Populations, Communities and Ecosystems

Course content

Plant ecology is the study of the interactions that determine the abundance and distribution of plants. While plant molecular biology and physiology describe the mechanisms and processes within plants, plant ecology studies interactions among individuals, populations, communities and ecosystems and how such interactions affect their well-being/performance, abundance and distribution. 

The solutions to many global challenges require an understanding of plant ecology. For example, food demand is increasing while weeds, insect pests and diseases continue to cause substantial yield losses. Many herbicides and pesticides are being phased out due to health and environmental concerns, and it is more important than ever to identify the ecological processes and dynamics that determine whether alternative management solutions are viable, and under which conditions, and for how long. Alternative approaches to plant production may, like previous, have unwanted effects on the environment, e.g. escape of transgenes conferring stress tolerance to neighboring crops and related species, which may in turn affect survival of the wild plant populations that constitute genetic resources for plant breeding. Wild plant populations may decline from increasing agriculture and urbanisation, but what determines their long-term probability of survival and what we can do about it? How does reduced biodiversity affect processes in the natural and human-dominated landscape, which may ultimately influence our well-being as humans?

The course will cover the following scientific topics:

- Plant population ecology: reproduction, dispersal, establishment, demography, factors and processes determining population size

- Biotic interactions: competition, herbivory, parasitism and disease, allelopathy, symbioses, mutualisms

- Evolutionary ecology: selection, inbreeding, genetic drift, population differentiation, ecotypes,  resistance evolution, speciation, life-history strategies

- Plant community ecology: community structure, succession, species diversity, invasive plants, plant conservation

The course relies on active participation of the students in discussions, experiments, exercises, and lectures, where we use ecological theory to understand basic and applied questions in plant ecology.


MSc Programme in Agriculture
MSc Programme i Environmental Science

Learning outcome

Students in the course will learn about  ecological processes and interactions that affect survival and reproduction of plant populations, their abundance and distribution, and how these can be investigated scientifically. They will become familiar with major concepts, questions and controversies in modern plant ecology, and be able to discuss these critically. Students will also learn to apply this knowledge to solve current societal challenges.


- Scientific knowledge about processes and interactions that determine the abundance and distribution of plants, including abiotic factors such as environmental stress and biotic interactions such as competition, herbivory, parasitism and symbiosis.

- Overview of important ecological concepts at different conceptual scales, and the theories associated with these

- Use of basic plant ecology in applied settings


- Use plant ecological theory to develop and test hypotheses, and put these into a broader biological perspective

- Apply ecological principles to applied problem complexes in ecosystem management and plant production

- Judge alternative solutions to applied problems concerning plant populations and communities

- Use ecological methods to analyze the condition of plant populations


- Understand and criticize research, concepts and theories in major areas of plant ecology

- Develop models and hypotheses to explain ecological patterns and processes, and evaluate these critically

- Discuss scientific aspect of applied problems concerning plant populations and communities


Lectures with discussions, practical and theoretical exercises, excursions, student presentations followed by student-led discussions, project work on chosen subject, teacher-led discussions of articles, group work

Gurevitch J, Scheiner SM and Fox GA:  The Ecology of Plants. Second Edition. Sinauer Associates, scientfic articles

Introductory courses in ecology and botany

Continuous feedback during the course of the semester
Peer feedback (Students give each other feedback)

Individual teacher feedback to students during project development; peer feed back to written synopsis and oral presentation of individual student project project. Collective oral feed back to results of the four smaller examns during course.

7,5 ECTS
Type of assessment
Continuous assessment, 4 x 1 time
Continuous assessment, including 1) an individual written synopsis, oral presentation and report on a chosen subject (40%); 2) four smaller written exams during the course (60%)
Without aids

No materials at written exams
All materials allowed for presentations and reports

Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
No external censorship
One internal examinator
Criteria for exam assessment

Look at the learning outcome

Single subject courses (day)

  • Category
  • Hours
  • Lectures
  • 32
  • Theory exercises
  • 8
  • Colloquia
  • 14
  • Project work
  • 24
  • Exam
  • 6
  • Guidance
  • 2
  • Excursions
  • 16
  • Practical exercises
  • 8
  • Preparation
  • 96
  • English
  • 206