NPLK14009U Plants in Populations, Communities and Ecosystems

Volume 2016/2017

MSc Programme in Agriculture


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, nutrient cycles, climate and vegetation, world’s terrestrial vegetation types

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 c omplexes 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


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

Introductory courses in ecology and botany
Lectures with discussions, practical (and theoretical) exercises and excursions, student presentations followed by student-led discussions, teacher-led discussions of articles, group work
  • Category
  • Hours
  • Colloquia
  • 14
  • Exam
  • 6
  • Excursions
  • 16
  • Guidance
  • 2
  • Lectures
  • 32
  • Practical exercises
  • 8
  • Preparation
  • 96
  • Project work
  • 24
  • Theory exercises
  • 8
  • Total
  • 206
7,5 ECTS
Type of assessment
Continuous assessment
Continuous assessment, including a presentation (20%) and an individual report (20%) on an individually chosen subject, and four smaller written exams (60%)
Exam registration requirements

Participation in all excursionsin and at least 75% of the rest of the course activities.

Without aids

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

Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
No external censorship
One internal examinator

For the re-exam passed parts of the prior exam can be re-used.
If missing project report: hand in report at the end of examination week; contact course responsible for details.
If missing presentation, examn(s) or participation: Oral examination, based on curriculum (60%) and individual report (40%)

Criteria for exam assesment

Look at the learning outcome