Ideal for landscapers, permaculturalists, farmers and environmental managers, this plant ecology course will enable you to develop a deeper understanding of the principles of plant ecology, why plants are the way they are, and their relationships to other plants, animals and the physical world around them.
The Certificate of Plant Ecology will give you insights into ecological principles, ecosystems, how plants respond to environmental stressors, and the importance of soil, weather, geography, climate and abiotic environmental factors in horticulture.
You will also understand how xerophytes, hydrophytes and halophytes can be used in gardening and landscaping situations, learn to evaluate meteorological records in relation to plant growth and development, and how planning, impact analysis and environmental assessment contribute to conservation.
Outcomes achieved by undertaking a plant ecology course include:
- Learning about the ecosystem and the constituents of the ecosystem
- Exploring ecological concepts and terminology
- Gaining an understanding of energy flow through an ecosystem
- Studying the web of life and the food web
- Examining habitat and niche
- Understanding biomes
- Attaining knowledge of plant communities (open and closed) and their classification
- Gaining insights into habitat types, the structure of layers, dominant species and competition
- Learning about the local and characteristics of biomes including the tropical rainforest biome
- Exploring community structure, semi-natural vegetation and the succession of plant communities
- Gaining an understanding of community stability and equilibrium
- Studying edge effects, what can happen at edges and environmental stress
- Examining plants and their environment including development, structure and function
- Understanding plant modifications, functional adaptions and environmental factors (climate, light, temperature, fires and wind)
- Attaining knowledge of how to monitor abiotic factors, environmental assessment, pre-purchase of a site and background data
- Gaining insights into flora and fauna surveys and open space management plans
- Learning about compliance with specific license conditions
- Exploring the detection of pollutants
- Gaining an understanding of the remediation of a polluted site
- Studying plants, soils and climate including natural conditions and plants distribution
- Examining climate classification and the climate of Australia and the British Isles
- Understanding plant distribution, meteorological data, geographic location, effective rainfall, evaporation and the circulation features of the Pacific Ocean
- Attaining knowledge of the Walker circulation, the southern oscillation, El Niňo, the global effects of El Niño, El Niño climate clues and La Niňa
- Gaining insights into the Gaia theory, the carbon dioxide cycle, wind descriptions, soil fertility/nutrient availability and the major types of soil problems
- Learning about water and wind erosion and control methods for salinity
- Exploring soil structural decline and soil acidification and chemical residues
- Gaining an understanding of plant adaptions to extreme environments
- Studying hydrophyte, xerophytes, mesophyte and halophyte
2021 Ecological Society of Australia Gold Medal Recipients
If you are interested in a plant ecology course, it is worth becoming familiar with the Ecological Society of Australia (ESA). Recently, prestigious Gold Medals were awarded by the society to two of Australia’s leading ecologists in recognition of the impact of their work. Professor Kristine French from the University of Wollongong and Professor Richard Kingsford of the University of NSW were the recipients.
As ESA President, Dr Bek Christensen commented, “Both Professor Kingsford and Professor French have made sustained and invaluable contributions to the understanding of Australian ecology. They have been pioneers and world leaders in their respective fields, fostered and mentored the next generation of scientists and given back to the research community through their leadership and service roles”.
Professor Kristine French
Professor French is the Director of the Janet Cosh Herbarium at the University of Wollongong. She was Vice President of the Ecological Society of Australia from 2000 to 2007 and President from 2011 to 2013.
Her expertise on threatened species, environmental weeds and urban plants and birds has been sought in the management of threatened weeds and species such as exotic grasses, invasive vines and the bitou bush. She has helped to lead the national Birds in Backyards program which was awarded the 2008 Eureka Prize for Environmental Sustainability Education.
Through her leadership roles at the University of Wollongong and the Ecological Society of Australia, Professor French has had a substantial influence on generations of ecologists. She has taught thousands of students, instilling in them a love and appreciation of ecology and training many into careers as conservation scientists. She has supervised dozens of students, with many moving into senior positions in research, government and environmental non-government organisations.
“I find it really satisfying that students who have worked in my lab or spent some time here have gone on to do good things with that knowledge. I do like feeling like I’m doing something for the world that is positive and contributing my science to help solve environmental issues,”, she said.
Professor Richard Kingsford
Professor Kingsford is the Director of the Centre for Ecosystem Science at UNSW Sydney. He is a conservation biologist and river ecologist who has worked extensively across the rivers and wetlands of the Murray-Darling and Lake Eyre Basins.
He has made a significant contribution to understanding the impact of water resource developments on wetlands and rivers. Most recently, he led a project on the impacts of dams on the platypus, which has resulted in a submission for threatened species status for this iconic species. Furthermore, he has invested time in the reintroduction of locally extinct mammals into Sturt National Park, in his role as leader of the Wild Deserts project.
This decade-long project in north-western NSW has already returned three of an intended seven species of locally extinct mammals. He also leads the Eastern Australian Waterbird Survey, which has been running since 1983 and covers about a third of the continent, making it one of the longest and most extensive surveys of ecosystems in the world.
For Professor Kingsford, his focus on river systems and wetlands is increasingly important. As he comments, “Waterbirds are fascinating and I could spend three lifetimes working on their intrinsic ecology but I realised they were declining and I needed to focus on threats to their existence, mainly from humans, so that others could enjoy them in their lifetimes too.”
How Plants Adapt to Different Environments
As you’ll learn in this plant ecology course, plants have evolved to cope with extreme environments by using both chemical and physical adaptations. Some of these include:
Geographic areas where water is limited and infrequent are extremely stressful to plants living within these communities, and different plants have adopted a variety of techniques to deal with these conditions including:
- Morphological adaptations — Certain desert plants have adapted to infrequent rainfalls by increasing their ability to store water. Some also keep their stomata closed during the day and open at night to reduce water loss.
- Leaf adaptations — Other plants adapt to dry conditions by reducing the surface area of their leaves that assists in reducing the rate of evaporation from the plant.
- Root adaptations — Trees in arid environments have adapted their root structure to suit their environment and enhance their water-storing ability following heavy rains.
- Reproductive adaptations — The seeds of desert plants have evolved to survive extreme temperatures and drought periods by developing hard coats to protect the embryo. Others have developed hooks on their outer coats to assist with dispersal by attaching to passing animal fur or skin. There are also some that will only germinate following an environmental trigger such as the external temperature dropping to a specific level, or exposure to extreme heat from the fire.
Closed forests such as rainforests have dense canopies and therefore the amount of light that reaches the forest floor is greatly limited. Many plants have adapted to these environments in different ways such as:
- Climbing plants — Vines and lianas can climb higher to reach the light.
- Epiphytes — Live in the canopy trees where there is greater access to light.
- Darker foliage — Plants that are unable to climb higher to access light may have darker foliage to help them capture and absorb more light.
- Size-restriction — Some plants are able to stall their growth and remain at a small size for significant lengths of time until a light gap becomes available.
Epiphytes in Water-inundated Environments
Trees such as mangroves have to cope with intermittent inundation of soil and saltwater which is soft and low in oxygen. These plants have developed various methods to adapt to this environment such as:
- Leaf adaptations — Some mangrove plants have glands on their leaves to excrete salt, others can store this salt in large amounts in their leaves. Mangroves can also move their leaves so as to reduce the size of the surface area exposed to the sun to reduce the amount of water lost.
- Root adaptations — Exposed roots rising vertically from the ground not only provide structural support for the tree but also allow for oxygen transfer to roots trapped below the ground. These roots can also halt the movement of salt to other parts of the plant.
- Reproductive adaptations — Some mangrove trees produce floating seeds that can be dispersed on the tide to avoid overcrowding. Others are viviparous (the offspring develops while attached to the adult plant). Once the offspring has matured it drops into the water where it will stay dormant until it reaches the soil.
Develop a comprehensive understanding of the important principles of plant ecology with a plant ecology course such as our Certificate of Plant Ecology.