Plant Ecology

Study botanical science for a career or job with plants and environmental management; learn how plants interact with each other and their environment.

Course Code: BSC305
Fee Code: S3
Duration (approx) Duration (approx) 100 hours
Qualification Statement of Attainment
Get started!
Knowing Plant Ecology is fundamental to Knowing How to Grow and Manage Plants

This makes it very important for anyone working in agriculture, horticulture or environmental management! You may choose to study this to fill in a 'gap' in your education; to complement something you already work at, or to improve your prospects in business or career, in the future.

  • Learn how plants interact with each other and the environment they live in
  • Develop a deeper understanding of plants for working in science, biology, the environment, agriculture, gardening, landscaping, organic farming, permaculture and herbal medicine
  • Self paced 100 hour course.
The term "ecology” was first introduced in 1869 by a German biologist named Ernst Haeckel. The term was derived from the Greek "oikos", which means household or home, and “logos”, which means word or study. Ecology, then, is the study of plants and animals in relation to their home, or environment. The study of ecology was further advanced by Charles Darwin, with his theory of evolution and Alexander von Humboldt, who made extensive explorations in the Orinoco and Amazon River regions in South America in the nineteenth century.

Lesson Structure

There are 8 lessons in this course:

  1. Introductory Ecology
    • Definitions for ecology, ecosystems
    • Constituents of an ecosystem
    • Ecological concepts
    • Interrelationships between climate, soil and living things (consumers, decomposers)
    • The food web
    • Habitat and niche
    • Biomes
    • Terminology
  2. Plant Communities
    • Open and closed plant communities
    • Habitat types
    • Location and characteristics of biomes
    • Semi natural vegetation
    • Competition
    • Succession of plant communities
    • Community stability and equilibrium
    • Environmental stress
    • Edge effectsTerminology
  3. Plants and their Environment
    • Development, structure and function
    • Plant modifications: functional adaptions
    • Environmental factors: light, temperature, fires, wind
    • Monitoring abiotic factors
    • Introduction to Environmental assessment
    • Pre purchase inspection of a site
    • Background data
    • Flora and fauna surveys
    • Open space management plans
    • Compliance with lisencing conditions
    • Detection of pollutants
    • Use of plants
    • Remediation of a polluted site
  4. Plants, Soils and Climate
    • Natural conditions andplants distribution
    • Climate classification
    • Examples: climate in the UK, climate in Australia
    • Meteorological data
    • Plant distribution
    • Geographic location
    • Rainfall
    • Evapouration
    • Effective rainfall
    • Circulation features
    • The walker circulation
    • Southern oscillation
    • El nino
    • La Nina
    • GAIA theory
    • Carbon dioxide cycle
    • Wind descriptions
    • Soil problems
    • Erosion
    • Salinity
    • Soil structure decline and soil compaction
    • Soil acidification
    • Build up of dangerous chemicals
  5. Plant Adaptations to Extreme Environments
    • Ecological groups of plants: hydrophyte, xerophyte, mesophyte, halophyte
    • Xeromorphy
    • Common environmental problems when growing plants: foliage burn, pollution, lack of water, frost, shade, humidity, temperature, wind, etc
    • Desert landscapes
    • Xeriscapes
    • Coastal gardens
    • Water plant environments
    • Greenhouse plants
  6. Manipulating Plant Environments
    • Controlling environmental conditions
    • Tolerance levels for different plants
    • Matching plants with their environment
    • Managing light
    • Managing water
    • Protective structures
    • Windbreaks
    • Tree guards
  7. Environmental Conservation
    • Water pollution
    • Soil pollution
    • Atmospheric pollution
    • Effects of horticulture
    • Pesticides
    • Fertilisers
    • Deforestation problemsLoss of agricultural land
    • Loss of biodiversity
    • Environmental weeds
    • The greenhouse effect
    • Other environmental problems affecting plant communities
    • Greenhouse gases
    • Ozone depletion
    • Introduction to recycling
  8. Environmental Organisations, Assessment and Funding
    • Plant conservation
    • Conservation of individual species
    • Conservation organisations
    • Conservation funding

Each lesson culminates in an assignment which is submitted to the school, marked by the school's tutors and returned to you with any relevant suggestions, comments, and if necessary, extra reading.

Aims

  • Define the term ecosystem
  • Explain the importance of plants as energy producers within ecosystems
  • Explain basic ecological principles
  • Define the terms open and closed plant communities, semi-natural vegetation, dominant species, climax association.
  • Describe the effects of plant association and competition on the succession of plants
  • Describe how plant communities respond to environmental stresses.
  • Explain how the development, structure and function of an organism depends on the interaction of that organism with its environment
  • Describe the effects of a range of abiotic environmental factors on plant growth and development
  • Explain the importance of monitoring abiotic environmental factors
  • Describe plant modifications to withstand extreme environmental conditions
  • Describe the weather and climate in a particular region.
  • Relate plant distribution, growth and natural selection to soil, geography, weather and climate.
  • State how soil, geography, weather and climate affect the horticulturist’s selection of plants for any specific growing location.
  • Evaluate the use of meteorological records in relation to plant growth and development
  • Define the terms xerophyte, hydrophyte and halophyte
  • Describe the structure and function of xerophytes, hydrophytes and halophytes
  • Describe how xerophytes, hydrophytes and halophytes can be utilised in garden or landscape situations
  • Describe the significance of xeromorphy in temperate zone plants and its importance in the garden or landscape situation.
  • Evaluate the methods by which environmental conditions can be manipulated to improve the growth and development of plants
  • State the factors affecting the choice of plants for garden or landscape sites with extreme conditions
  • Assess the value of using protective structures to grow plants
  • Describe the sources and nature of pollutants and possible effects on plants
  • Describe how the environment may be affected by a range of horticultural practices
  • Explain how planning, environmental assessment and impact analysis may contribute to the conservation process
  • State the major sources of grant aide available to support environmental conservation on horticultural sites
  • Review the role of national and international organisations in the conservation of plants and gardens.

What are the Different Types of Plant Communities?

>There are two main types of plant communities.

 

  • Open plant communities consist of open canopies with sparse vegetation and usually one or two canopy layers.
  • Closed communities include more dense vegetation with a closed canopy. Closed communities may consist of rain forest plants and include larger leafed species.

In contrast with closed communities, open communities develop where there is shortage of resources, like African savannas, North American prairies and Asian steppes, all suffering from shortage of moisture for at least several months a year, or open forests on rocky grounds lacking enough soil to grow on.

Habitat Types

The earth can be divided up into different types of areas with shared characteristics. The simplest division is that into areas covered by water and areas covered by dry land. This division is based upon simple physical characteristics. There are many other ways of dividing up regions which are far more complex; based upon not just physical characteristics but also the living things that inhabit an area. Regions of the world can be differentiated according to environmental conditions, topography and dominant plant and animal species. For example, the use of such criteria allows us to see that tropical lowland rain forest is very different to arctic tundra.

This course helps you understand all these different ecosystems and how plants fit into each.

 

HOW CAN THIS COURSE HELP YOU?

You may choose to study this to fill in a 'gap' in your education; to complement something you already work at, or to improve your prospects in business or career, in the future. Maybe you would like to work in the environment, add to your horticultural and nature park studies, work in research or just improve your knowledge. An ecology unit is well favoured these days as an essential component of many qualifications including urban design, landscape design and architecture, amenity horticulture, nature park management and so on.

 


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Course Contributors

The following academics were involved in the development and/or updating of this course.

Marie Beermann

Marie has more than 10 years experience in horticulture and education in both Australia and Germany. Marie's qualifications include B. Sc., M. Sc. Hort., Dip. Bus., Cert. Ldscp.

John Mason (Horticulturist)

Parks Manager, Nurseryman, Landscape Designer, Garden Writer and Consultant.
Over 40 years experience; working in Victoria, Queensland and the UK.
He is one of the most widely published garden writers in the world.

Rosemary Davies (Horticulturist)

Leading horticultural expert in Australia.
Rosemary trained in Horticultural Applied Science at Melbourne University. Initially she worked with Agriculture Victoria as an extension officer, taught horticulture students, worked on radio with ABC radio (c





Tutors

Meet some of the tutors that guide the students through this course.

Lynette Morgan

B. Hort. Tech., Ph.D. in Horticultural Science

Dr Morgan has a broad expertise in horticulture and crop production, and a keen appreciation of the global scene. She travels widely as a partner in Suntec Horticultural Consultants, and has clients in central America, the USA, Caribbean, South East Asia, the Middle East, Australia and New Zealand.

Jade Sciascia

B.Sc.Biol, Dip.Prof.Ed, Cert Food Hygiene.

Former Business Coordinator, Scottish Environmental Protection Agency, Secondary School teacher (Biology); Administrator (Recruitment), Senior Supervisor (Youth Welfare). International Business Manager for IARC. Academic officer and writer with ACS for over 10 years, both in Australia and in the UK.

Megan Cox

Megan has completed a Bachelor of Science (Environmental Conservation) with Honours from Writtle University College, as well as a Master of Science Degree in Countryside Management from Manchester Metropolitan University.

Her experience includes working as a Botanist, Ecologist, Head Gardener, Market Gardener and a Farming and Conservation Officer.

She has worked in various roles in Horticulture, Agriculture and Ecology since 2005. Megan has worked for the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and the Centre for Environment and Rural Affairs among other organisations in the UK, as well as in Australia and Cambodia.

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