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Unit of study_

BIOL2031: Plants and Environment

Plants grow across a range of environments, influencing form, function and ultimately reproductive success. Being sessile, plants lack the luxury of seeking an alternative 'stress-free lifestyle' and therefore rely on genetic and physical adaptations to survive and reproduce. To understand how a plant can achieve such flexibility requires knowledge of plant structure and the influence of environmental drivers on plant growth and function. In this unit, you will examine the physiological processes controlling plant growth and reproduction linked to environmental constraints. You will understand the relationship between tissue and cellular structure and their underlying role in physiological and metabolic activities, particularly processes involving light capture, photosynthesis, water regulation, nutrient management and metabolite redistribution. Lectures and interactive practicals will together introduce you to plant processes that underpin life on earth. Experimentation and analysis of plant physiological processes will develop a skill base that will lead to a greater understanding and appreciation of common plant processes. As a component of the Plant Science minor and the Plant Production major, BIOL2031 will provide an important platform to extend your interests in plant science and plant related fields across the curriculum.


Academic unit Life and Environmental Sciences Academic Operations
Unit code BIOL2031
Unit name Plants and Environment
Session, year
Semester 2, 2020
Attendance mode Normal day
Location Camperdown/Darlington, Sydney
Credit points 6

Enrolment rules

AGEN2005 or BIOL3043 or BIOL3943 or BIOL2931
Assumed knowledge

Knowledge of concepts and skills in BIOL1XX6.

Available to study abroad and exchange students


Teaching staff and contact details

Coordinator Claudia Keitel,
Lecturer(s) Andrew Merchant ,
Claudia Keitel,
Helen Bramley,
Brent Norman Kaiser,
Tina Louise Bell,
Type Description Weight Due Length
Final exam (Open book) Type C final exam hurdle task Examination
Multiple choice and short answer questions
40% Formal exam period 2 hours
Outcomes assessed: LO1
Tutorial quiz Practical quizzes
Online quiz
20% Multiple weeks Details provided on Canvas
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO2 LO3 LO5
Assignment Lab books
Lab notebook to demonstrate scientific note-taking and analysis skills
20% Multiple weeks Details provided on Canvas
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4
Assignment group assignment Scientific commentary
Written assignment
10% Week 11 600 - 800 words
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4
Presentation group assignment Presentation
Powerpoint and oral presentation
10% Week 12 15 minutes
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO5 LO4 LO3 LO2
hurdle task = hurdle task ?
group assignment = group assignment ?
Type C final exam = Type C final exam ?
  • Pre-lab tests: A pre-practical quiz needs to be completed before coming to the practical class each week (total of 16 marks, from week 2 onwards). These quizzes will test your understanding of what is going to be taught in each practical. All quizzes need to be completed on Canvas.
  • Lab notebooks: Students will have their laboratory books marked once in week 8 (15 marks). One of the experiments in the lab notebook will be assessed, and the selection will be random, but the same experiment will be marked for all students. Assessment will be based on completeness, clarity and accuracy, and more information on lab notebook requirements will be available on Canvas. Notebooks will be compiled on LabArchives.
  • Scientific commentary and presentation: Students will undertake a research project during the semester in which they will employ selected data collected during the practical sessions and will use both library and internet resources to investigate the research topic and question. Students will work in groups of three (3) to prepare a 10 min PowerPoint seminar for joint presentation (9 marks). Prior to the presentation, a two-page summary (600-800 words, excluding references, 10 marks) must be submitted in the general format of a scientific commentary, with a focus on relating the outcomes of the project to current literature. It should also include the references used to compile the summary and presentation. Students will have the opportunity to review the contribution of their peers to this group assignment (more information will be provided on Canvas). Powerpoints need to be submitted via Turnitin on Canvas.
  • Examination: A 2-hour theory exam will be held during the official examination period at the end of semester. The exam may comprise multiple-choice, short-answer and/or mini-essay questions from any area of the lecture and practical program. Students must obtain an overall mark of at least 40% in the final exam (i.e. 20/50) to pass the unit.
Detailed information for each assessment can be found on Canvas.

Assessment criteria

The University awards common result grades, set out in the Coursework Policy 2014 (Schedule 1).

As a general guide, a high distinction indicates work of an exceptional standard, a distinction a very high standard, a credit a good standard, and a pass an acceptable standard.

For more information see

Late submission

In accordance with University policy, these penalties apply when written work is submitted after 11:59pm on the due date:

  • Deduction of 5% of the maximum mark for each calendar day after the due date.
  • After ten calendar days late, a mark of zero will be awarded.

Special consideration

If you experience short-term circumstances beyond your control, such as illness, injury or misadventure or if you have essential commitments which impact your preparation or performance in an assessment, you may be eligible for special consideration or special arrangements.

Academic integrity

The Current Student website provides information on academic honesty, academic dishonesty, and the resources available to all students.

The University expects students and staff to act ethically and honestly and will treat all allegations of academic dishonesty or plagiarism seriously.

We use similarity detection software to detect potential instances of plagiarism or other forms of academic dishonesty. If such matches indicate evidence of plagiarism or other forms of dishonesty, your teacher is required to report your work for further investigation.

WK Topic Learning activity Learning outcomes
Week 01 Introductory session (general info, practicals, assessments, online platforms) Practical (3 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5
Case study 1: Plant sciences and global health Lecture (1 hr) LO1
Leaf function 1: Primary metabolism Lecture (1 hr) LO1
Week 02 Leaf gas exchange and anatomy 1: photosynthetic light and carbon dioxide response Practical (3 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5
Leaf function 2: Light harvesting and photoprotection Lecture (1 hr) LO1
Plant energy exchange Lecture (1 hr) LO1
Tutorial for Module 1 Tutorial (1 hr) LO1
Week 03 Leaf gas exchange and anatomy 2: photosynthetic light and carbon dioxide response Practical (3 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5
Plant water relations and hydraulics 1 Lecture (1 hr) LO1
Plant water relations and hydraulics 2 Lecture (1 hr) LO1
Week 04 Water potential and hydraulic conductivity Practical (3 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5
Case study 2: Plant and human adaptations to nutrient deficiencies Lecture (1 hr) LO1
Plant nutrients Lecture (1 hr) LO1
Week 05 Data review and analysis workshop Practical (3 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5
Biotic interactions of the hidden half Lecture (1 hr) LO1
Nutrient transport Lecture (1 hr) LO1
Week 06 Plant root potassium uptake Practical (3 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5
Beneficial root symbionts - Rhizobia and Mycorrhizae Lecture (1 hr) LO1
Case study 3: Biofortification for food quality Lecture (1 hr) LO1
Tutorial for Module 2 Tutorial (1 hr) LO1
Week 07 Legume nodule nitrogen fixation Practical (3 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5
Plant factories: carbohydrates Lecture (1 hr) LO1
Plant factories: fatty acids, lipids, waxes Lecture (1 hr) LO1
Week 08 Carbohydrates/partitioning Practical (3 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5
Plant factories: amino acids, proteins Lecture (1 hr) LO1
Plant factories: structure and anatomy Lecture (1 hr) LO1
Tutorial for Module 3 Tutorial (1 hr) LO1
Week 09 Flowers and seeds Practical (3 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5
Case study 4: Physiological drivers of plant reproduction Lecture (1 hr) LO1
Plant reproduction – flowering Lecture (1 hr) LO1
Week 10 Plant stress response Practical (3 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5
Plant reproduction – seed development Lecture (1 hr) LO1
Plant reproduction - senescence Lecture (1 hr) LO1
Tutorial for Module 4 Tutorial (1 hr) LO1
Week 11 Data review and analysis workshop Practical (3 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5
Case study 5: Plant adaptations to climate variability and climate change Lecture (1 hr) LO1
Stress response 1 – wet and dry Lecture (1 hr) LO1
Week 12 Stress response 2 – salinity Lecture (1 hr) LO1
Stress response 3 – hot and cold Lecture (1 hr) LO1
Tutorial for Module 5 Tutorial (1 hr) LO1

Attendance and class requirements

  • Attendance: You are required to attend a minimum of 90% of timetabled practicals for this unit (8 practical sessions and 2 data review and analysis workshops), unless granted exemption by the Associate Dean.
  • Required materials: The practical manual with background information about the experiment conducted during the practical session, as well as experimental protocols will be available on Canvas one week prior to the practicals. It is expected that you read this manual prior to coming to the sessions in preparation for the pre-lab quiz. The manual will not be provided in printed form.

Study commitment

Typically, there is a minimum expectation of 1.5-2 hours of student effort per week per credit point for units of study offered over a full semester. For a 6 credit point unit, this equates to roughly 120-150 hours of student effort in total.

Learning outcomes are what students know, understand and are able to do on completion of a unit of study. They are aligned with the University’s graduate qualities and are assessed as part of the curriculum.

At the completion of this unit, you should be able to:

  • LO1. understand basic plant principles governing carbon fixation, water balance, nutrient uptake, growth, partitioning, reproduction, stress response and death
  • LO2. use technical equipment to understand core concepts linked to carbon capture, the role of water and minerals on growth, resource exchange between tissues and the underlying intricacies of plant development
  • LO3. demonstrate inquiry and problem solving skills through practical classes which focus on experimentation, data collection, data analysis and presentation
  • LO4. prepare a lab notebook, a scientific commentary on practical results (or a complete practical report for advanced students) and a group presentation on relevant topics linked to plant physiology
  • LO5. complete pre-reading prior to lab practicals and be fit to carry out experiments independently where appropriate, and work alongside peers in an effective and collaborative manner

Graduate qualities

The graduate qualities are the qualities and skills that all University of Sydney graduates must demonstrate on successful completion of an award course. As a future Sydney graduate, the set of qualities have been designed to equip you for the contemporary world.

GQ1 Depth of disciplinary expertise

Deep disciplinary expertise is the ability to integrate and rigorously apply knowledge, understanding and skills of a recognised discipline defined by scholarly activity, as well as familiarity with evolving practice of the discipline.

GQ2 Critical thinking and problem solving

Critical thinking and problem solving are the questioning of ideas, evidence and assumptions in order to propose and evaluate hypotheses or alternative arguments before formulating a conclusion or a solution to an identified problem.

GQ3 Oral and written communication

Effective communication, in both oral and written form, is the clear exchange of meaning in a manner that is appropriate to audience and context.

GQ4 Information and digital literacy

Information and digital literacy is the ability to locate, interpret, evaluate, manage, adapt, integrate, create and convey information using appropriate resources, tools and strategies.

GQ5 Inventiveness

Generating novel ideas and solutions.

GQ6 Cultural competence

Cultural Competence is the ability to actively, ethically, respectfully, and successfully engage across and between cultures. In the Australian context, this includes and celebrates Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures, knowledge systems, and a mature understanding of contemporary issues.

GQ7 Interdisciplinary effectiveness

Interdisciplinary effectiveness is the integration and synthesis of multiple viewpoints and practices, working effectively across disciplinary boundaries.

GQ8 Integrated professional, ethical, and personal identity

An integrated professional, ethical and personal identity is understanding the interaction between one’s personal and professional selves in an ethical context.

GQ9 Influence

Engaging others in a process, idea or vision.

Outcome map

Learning outcomes Graduate qualities
The assessments and delivery of this unit has been adjusted to take into consideration student feedback from the previous year.


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