Plants in Populations and Communities

Course content

Plant ecology is the scientific study of biotic and abiotic interactions that determine the abundance, distribution and patterns of diversity of populations and communities. This course focuses on the ecological and evolutionary processes that regulate these interactions at population and community levels. A major focus of the course is to use ecological theory and methods to understand basic and applied questions in plant ecology with relevance to sustainability objectives in both agricultural and natural ecosystems.

Many global environmental and agricultural challenges require an understanding of plant ecology. The demand for nutritious, sustainably produced, plant-based food is increasing, requiring knowledge of plant performance and interactions in populations and communities. Weeds, insect pests and diseases cause substantial yield losses and therefore it is important to understand plant-plant, plant-insect and plant-pathogen interactions to design sustainable agricultural systems. Plant populations and communities in natural ecosystems are also under threat from agricultural intensification, land use, climate and environmental change. How does reduced biodiversity affect processes in natural and human-dominated landscapes and how can we include plant diversity in landscape and agri-environmental planning, which may ultimately influence our well-being as humans?

The core of the course aims to teach basic principles in plant population and community ecology that will help to address these challenges:

Plant population ecology: demography, population dynamics, dispersal 

Biotic interactions: plant-plant, plant-microbe and plant-animal interactions and their impacts on plant populations and communities.

Evolutionary ecology: Life history, local adaptation, co-evolution, population and ecological genetics. 

Plant community ecology: community assembly processes, succession, species diversity.

We explore the importance of basic plant ecology for addressing current global, agricultural, environmental and sustainability challenges (zero hunger, life on land, responsible consumption and production, climate action) through lectures and seminars, student-led classroom discussion, literature criticism, fieldwork (including data collection and analysis) and project work. Case studies include:

- Plant invasions, pest management, patterns of plant biodiversity, big data and citizen science for plant ecology, climate change impacts and conservation of natural plant communities.

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


MSc Programme in Agriculture
MSc Programme i Environmental Science

Learning outcome

Students in the course will learn about the ecological processes and interactions that affect dynamics and composition of plant populations and communities, their abundance and distribution, and how these can be investigated scientifically (including through modern statistical approaches). 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 in populations and communities

- Appreciate the interplay of ecological and evolutionary factors in determining dynamic patterns of plant distribution and abundance

- Understand the role of abiotic (environmental) factors and biotic interactions such as competition, herbivory, parasitism and symbiosis in shaping plant population and community dynamics

- Appreciate interactions between plant ecological patterns and human disturbance in natural and agri-environmental systems.


- Use plant ecological theory to develop and test hypotheses about impacts of land use and environmental change on the diversity and function of plant populations and communities.

- Apply plant ecological principles to applied problems in nature and landscape management and plant production.

- Quantitative skills required for the collection and analysis of field data on plant community composition and dynamics.


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

- Understand and use 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 to two lectures per day, including discussions. 

Quantitative and theoretical exercises

Reading articles and look critical at the literature, this part will likewise be with discussions.

Two all-day excursions, including field data collection.
Analysis and review of methods for data collection.

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. This project includes literature searching, criticital reading, synthesis and reference management. The student develops a short report, which is then read by fellow students and subjected to peer-feedback in Absalon. Students present to peers in class (with peer feedback) and then write an assessed project report.

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. Third Edition. Sinauer Associates.

Scientific articles provided by the course teachers.

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 the results of the four smaller exams during course.

Individual feedback if requested. 

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

Attendance and completion of a minimum 75% of the in-course assessed tests, participation in the research project seminar and timely submission of the final project report’

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
Several internal examiners.

For the re-exam, passed parts can be re-used. 

If missing project report: hand in report at the end of examination week; contact course responsible for details. 
If missing exam(s): Oral examination based on curriculum of the missing part.

The four exam(s) 60%, project report 40%

If the requirement for exam registration is not met: Oral examination (60%), based on curriculum and individual report (40%).


Criteria for exam assessment

Look at the learning outcome

Single subject courses (day)

  • Category
  • Hours
  • Lectures
  • 28
  • Class Instruction
  • 8
  • Preparation
  • 64
  • Theory exercises
  • 20
  • Excursions
  • 16
  • Project work
  • 60
  • Guidance
  • 4
  • Exam
  • 6
  • English
  • 206


Course number
7,5 ECTS
Programme level
Full Degree Master

1 block

Block 1
The number of seats may be reduced in the late registration period
Study Board of Natural Resources, Environment and Animal Science
Contracting department
  • Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences
Contracting faculty
  • Faculty of Science
Course Coordinator
  • Paul Neve   (6-72647067786742726e6770306d7730666d)

Sergey Rosbakh
Jacob Weiner

Saved on the 28-02-2023

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