Plants in Populations, Communities and Ecosystems

Course content

Plant ecology is the science about interactions of plants with their biotic and abiotic environment. While plant molecular biology and physiology study mechanisms and processes in single individuals, plant ecology studies interactions among individuals, populations, communities and ecosystems and how such interactions affect their abundance and distribution.  Many basic and applied problems need thorough plant ecological understanding to be solved: What is the cause of decline of many wild plant populations, among which may be medicinal plants and species of importance as genetic resource for plant breeding? Will transgenes from crops affect wild plant populations if they are transferred by hybridization? Why do some plant species become invasive, whereas others decline? How will increased temperatures affect populations of wild plants, weeds, cultivated plants and other species that are associated with these? How can agricultural plants be cultivated more sustainably?

The course will include the following specific topics:-
Plant population ecology: reproduction, dispersal, establishment, demography, factors and processes detremining population size, extinction

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

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

- Plants in ecosystems: primary production, climate and vegetation, world’s terrestrial vegetation types


MSc Programme in Agriculture
MSc Programme i Environmental Science

Learning outcome

Students in the course will understand how modern ecological science use observations and patterns to build theories and models, and how these are evaluated and tested. They will understand factors and interactions that affect survival and reproduction of plant populations and 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. They will be able to use this to solve applied societal problems.


- Understand and be able to use scientific knowledge about factors and processes 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.

- Have an overview of important ecological processes and interactions at different conceptual scales, and the theories associated with these

- Be aware of the difference between scientific and ethical issues in management of plant populations and communities, and their overlap


- 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 both the scientific and ethical 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