Plants in Populations and Communities

Course content

Plant ecology is the scientific study of biotic and abiotic interactions that determine the fitness, abundance and distribution of plants. Plant ecology thus focuses on the organismal, community and eco-system level, in contrast to molecular biology and physiology that focus on mechanisms and processes within plants. The focus of the course is to use ecological theory to understand basic and applied questions in plant ecology. 

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 understand the ecological processes and dynamics that determine whether alternative management solutions are viable, under which conditions, and for how long. Wild plant populations may decline from increasing agriculture and urbanization, 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 and how can we include plant diversity in landscape and cultivation planning, 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, and community effects of positive and negative plant interactions and diversity. 


The course relies on active participation of the students in discussions, experiments, exercises, peer feedback and lectures. 


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 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 systems 


- 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 nature and landscape management and plant production 

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


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

- 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 

One or two lectures per day, including discussions. 

Theoretical exercises and article reading 

Two all-day excursions 

An indoor plant experiment in groups, including data analysis, interpretation, presentation and discussion.  

Quizzes. Four one-hour written examinations in specified parts of the curriculum.  

Student project and report. Each student decides on a current research question in plant ecology and develops a short report, which is then read by fellow students and subjected to peer-feedback in Absalon. 

In all these activities, our main teaching form is based on dialogue, discussions, and a critical but supporting approach to complex scientific and applied ecological challenges.

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

Introductory courses in ecology and botany

Academic qualifications equivalent to a BSc degree is recommended.

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

Individual teacher feedback to students during project development, experiments, and for final report; teacher and peer feedback to project report, experimental results and presentation. Collective oral feedback to results of the four smaller exams during course; individual feedback if requested. 

7,5 ECTS
Type of assessment
Continuous assessment
Continuous assessment, including 1) four smaller written exams during the course (1hour each) (60%); 2) an individual written report on a chosen subject (40%)
Only certain aids allowed

No materials at 1) written exams
All materials allowed for 2) individual written report

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
  • Class Instruction
  • 14
  • Preparation
  • 96
  • Theory exercises
  • 8
  • Practical exercises
  • 16
  • Excursions
  • 8
  • Project work
  • 24
  • Guidance
  • 2
  • Exam
  • 6
  • English
  • 206


Course number
7,5 ECTS
Programme level
Full Degree Master

1 block

Block 1
Study Board of Natural Resources, Environment and Animal Science
Contracting department
  • Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences
Contracting faculty
  • Faculty of Science
Course Coordinator
  • Thure Pavlo Hauser   (4-79756d664575716a7333707a336970)

Jacob Weiner
Lars Pødenphant Kiær

Saved on the 01-03-2021

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