General Plant Ecology/ Plant Ecology

BOT 4601 and BOT 5605 - Fall 2013

lecture: T,R at 8 am in CBC 140

Blackboard Learn

Dr. Suzanne Koptur

OE 232, ph. 305-348-3103

office hrs M & W 10:30 am - noon, and by appt.


Course Description

This course will examine the ecology of plants at different levels: individual, population, and community. Our focus will be on the interactions of plants with each other, with other organisms, and with their environment. A general background in ecology is assumed (Prerequisite: PCB 3043, a general ecology class, or permission of instructor). Basic principles and foundations of the field will be considered as well as current research. Readings will come from a textbook (see syllabus that follows), articles from the literature, and various other internet resources to expand the topics. Our textbook will highlight recent advances in research as well as historic studies that have laid the foundation of this important  field of biological science. Students are expected to do the readings prior to each class, familiarizing themselves with the content, and coming to class to work on activities that will put the knowledge to use.  By maximizing student participation in the learning process, class members will gain competencies in all aspects of plant ecology. 

There will be five exams during the semester and a final exam. There will be many activities, including group projects with papers  and  presentations (each student will work on four projects). Lecture grades will be determined as follows: each exam 10% (the best 5 of 6 --> 50% total), projects 30%, and class participation 20% (in-class work (individual and group) 10%; take-home/online 10%).

Learning Outcomes

Students completing the lecture course will attain familiarity with the ecology of plants around the world, with special attention to plants of south Florida and tropical environments. Students will be able to understand the many environmental forces that determine the occurrence of species, various forms of the plant body, and the performance and reproductive success of plants in different situations. 

After this course, students should be able to: appreciate and explain why all life depends on plants; discuss and illustrate how plants adapt to environmental stresses; explain how basic plant parts have been modified for a variety of functions and purposes; compare plant strategies for reproduction, competition, and interactions with other species (plant and animal) using the details of plant life cycles and life histories; recognize different habitats based on the plants present and/or their adaptations; measure species richness, evenness, and diversity, and compare habitats and communities; assess the "quality" of habitats and valuate them; make informed recommendations for plantings in urban/suburban environments ("the right plant in the right place");  trace and appreciate all the connections and human activities that depend on plants. 

In addition, students may appreciate that humans have caused threats to many plants and their habitats, the perils faced by diverse plants in different habitats, and be cognizant of actions taken to conserve species, their genetic diversity, and environments.  Students will know how to utilize the scientific literature, especially peer-reviewed journals, important and relevant books, websites, botanical and ecological organizations, to answer questions and meet future challenges. 

Finally, students will be able to use their knowledge in planting their own yards, making gardens, working with others in community gardens and habitat restoration projects.  They will be able to think like scientists, exhibiting skepticism about claims made by others, and display a "show me" attitude in requiring data and analyses to back up claims made by others/ agencies/ companies/governments. 


Students pursuing lab activities will gain experience in field and lab research in plant ecology, be able to collect and analyze data, and interpret findings in written and oral presentations. They will succeed in working in teams, monitoring the growth of experimental plants, and measuring the outcome of manipulative experiments in the field. All these skills will prepare them for future work in natural areas management, research, or teaching in science.

FIU Code of Ethics and our course:

You are expected to be on time to class, and to stay the full period. You are expected to maintain high standards of academic honesty, avoiding plagiarism, and turning in or presenting work that is original and citing sources when used. Any student found in violation of these standards will earn an automatic F and be reported to the Deans Office, no exceptions made. In accordance with FIU's policy on academic honesty, as set forth in Section 2.44 of the Academic Affairs Policies and Procedures Manual (, it is expected that students in Plant Ecology will not submit the academic work of another person or persons as their own (both individual students and groups). Additional discussion of academic honesty and integrity may be found in the Manual of Student Conduct.   We will use in this course.

Lecture Schedule

required textbook: Gurevitch, J., S.M. Scheiner, and G.A. Fox. 2006. The Ecology of Plants (2nd ed.). Sinauer Associates, Inc. Sunderland, Massachusetts.




Week I - August 27 - T

Introduction - pretest - course goals rated by students


29 August - R

Photosynthesis and light


Wk 2 - 3 Sep - T

Water relations


5 Sep - R - SK away today

Library class with Patricia Pereira Pujol, GL 280 - How to find the information you need!  Please attend and be sure to sign in, this will help you this term and beyond...  

Wk 3 - 10 September - T

Soil and nutrients


12 Sep - R

Presentations - Plant Challenges  

Wk 4 - 17 Sep T

Exam 1  

19 Sep - R

Processes of Evolution - Population Biology


Wk 5 - 24 Sep T

Outcomes of Evolution; Habitats, plant adaptations, life forms


26 Sep - R

Vegetative reproduction and sexual reproduction


Wk 6 - 1 Oct - T

Plant life histories; Seeds and seedlings


3 Oct - R            SK away EPAC mtg

Exam 2

Wk 7 -  8 Oct - T

Community Properties  [Plant communities jigsaw assigned]


10 Oct - R



Wk 8 - 15 Oct - T

Competition and other interactions 


17 Oct - R

Plant communities presentations                


Wk 9 - 22 Oct - T

Plant communities presentations               


24 Oct - R

Exam 3


Wk 10 - 29 Oct - T

 Herbivory and plant pathogen interactions [jigsaw assigned - plant/plant interxns]


31 Oct - R

Disturbance and Succession  [read rarity paper for discussion next time]


Wk 11 - 5 Nov -  T

Diversity and rarity


7 Nov - R

Presentations - plant/plant interactions

Wk 12 - 12 Nov - T

Movie (as per popular request) - yes this will be on the test!


14 Nov - R

Presentations - plant/plant interactions    


Wk 13 - 19 Nov - T

Exam 4             


21 Nov - R

Ecosystem processes


Wk 14 - 26 Nov - T

Communities in Landscapes (fragmentation activity)


28 Nov - R

Thanksgiving holiday, no class meeting


Wk 15 - 3 Dec - T 

Climate and biomes


 5 Dec - R  - last class meeting

Exam 5


Wk 16 -  Final week - 12 Dec - R

Final exam (cumulative, multiple choice) 7:30 - 9:30 am