Plant Animal Interactions - an Evolutionary Approach

Course content

The course goal is to provide students with an overview of plant-animal interactions, how they evolve and their importance for human wellbeing, biodiversity, and climate changes. Thus, allowing students to form a solid basis upon which to build future innovative research and career interests in plant-animal interactions in the evolution of biodiversity.  

A survey of the role of plant-animal interactions in the evolution of biodiversity. The course will cover the following subjects from an evolutionary approach and use examples from recent and ongoing research:

  • Antagonistic and mutualistic types of plant-animal interactions.
  • Generalisation vs. specialisation.
  • Evolutionary approaches to study plant-animal interaction, including understanding phylogenies.
  • Herbivory and grazing from both a plant and animal perspective.
  • Pollination ecology, especially plant-insect interactions.
  • Attractants and rewards, for example in hummingbird-plant interactions.
  • Seed predation and dispersal.
  • Plant protection, for example, by ants.
  • Arms race and co-evolution, for example, the fig-wasp mutualism.
  • Physical and chemical plant defences.
  • Plant-plant and other interactions, for example, parasitic mistletoes.
  • Grazer–algae interactions in the marine environment
  • Community level interactions including plants as habitat and food webs.


The course includes training in oral and written communication skills through journal clubs, workshops, an essay and an oral presentation.

Learning outcome

After completion of the course students will have gained:



  • Evaluate the evolutionary and ecological impact of plant-animal interactions.
  • Evaluate the importance of interactions and their influence on conservation of species and biodiversity.
  • Understand evolutionary approaches to study plant-animal interaction.
  • Present their own work, both using scientific writing and oral presentation in a popular science way.
  • Extract, present and critically discuss in detail the results of a scientific article about plant-animal interactions
  • Identify and explain strengths and weaknesses in scientific articles and suggest further research.



  • Identify and classify types of plant-animal interaction.
  • Describe examples of plant-animal interactions.
  • Understand keystone species in ecosystems.
  • Design experiments to investigate plant-animal interactions based on novel methods such as DNA-metabarcoding and evolutionary methods.
  • Understand the importance of interactions for high biodiversity and a sustainable future, including a special focus on the UN's Global Goals for Sustainability Nos. 14 (life in water) and 15 (life on land).



  • Theory and examples of plant-animal interactions.
  • Understand the role of plant-animal interactions in the evolution of biodiversity and.
  • Understand how plant-animal interactions play an important role in sustainability and conservation.
  • Examples of recent and ongoing research on plant-animal interactions using innovative and new approaches, for example from citizen science and digital tools, DNA- and evolutionary methods.  
  • Discuss the correlation between plant chemical defense and co-evolution.


Each block of 3-4 hours lectures will present general topics supplemented by specific examples, primarily taken from active research themes of the teachers, and small in class exercises, both hands on activities, visits to the botanic gardens, and literature based discussions.
Training in scientific writing will be provided through workshops. Students will choose a plant-animal interaction and write an individual essay in the form of a scientific article (in review form) using primary literature.
Students will prepare a 15 min presentation of their essay individually. A lecture on presentation techniques will be given as inspiration.

Chapters from Herrera and Pellmyr (2002). Plant-Animal Interactions. An Evolutionary Approach. Blackwell Publishing. Supplemented by review papers and primary scientific literature.

Basic understanding of plant biology and evolutionary biology recommended, for instance obtained by following the courses "Diversity of the organisms", "Origins", and "Evolutionary biology", recommended.

Feedback by final exam (In addition to the grade)
Peer feedback (Students give each other feedback)

Students receive individual feedback on their essays as well as immediately after their oral presentation. Students also provide peer-feedback to each other at the oral presentation. 

7,5 ECTS
Type of assessment
Continuous assessment
Type of assessment details
Combination of a written multiple-choice exam, an individual 5-page essay, and an oral presentation and discussion of essays.

The final grade is based upon the grades of three subparts:
• 120 min written multiple choice exam (50%)
• 5-page essay (40%)
• 10 min oral presentation and discussion (10%)
All aids allowed
Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
No external censorship
Several internal examiners.
Criteria for exam assessment

See Learning Outcomes.

Single subject courses (day)

  • Category
  • Hours
  • Class Instruction
  • 8
  • Preparation
  • 74
  • Project work
  • 49
  • Seminar
  • 72
  • Exam
  • 3
  • English
  • 206


Course number
7,5 ECTS
Programme level

1 block

Block 1
The number of seats may be reduced in the late registration period
Study Board for the Biological Area
Contracting department
  • The Natural History Museum of Denmark
Contracting faculty
  • Faculty of Science
Course Coordinators
  • Natasha Louise de Vere   (15-71647764766b64316768317968756843767170316e7831676e)
  • Sam Bruun-Lund   (13-7664703165757878716f78716743767170316e7831676e)

SNM researchers and guest teachers.

Saved on the 28-02-2023

Are you BA- or KA-student?

Are you bachelor- or kandidat-student, then find the course in the course catalog for students:

Courseinformation of students