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Unit of study_

BIOL2031: Plants and Environment

Semester 2, 2021 [Normal day] - Remote

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.

Unit details and rules

Unit code BIOL2031
Academic unit Life and Environmental Sciences Academic Operations
Credit points 6
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

Coordinator Claudia Winters,
Type Description Weight Due Length
Final exam (Record+) Type B final exam hurdle task Examination
Multiple choice and short answer questions
40% Formal exam period 2 hours
Outcomes assessed: LO1
Assignment 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 12 600 - 800 words
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4
Presentation group assignment Presentation
Powerpoint and oral presentation
10% Week 13 15 minutes
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO5 LO4 LO3 LO2
hurdle task = hurdle task ?
group assignment = group assignment ?
Type B final exam = Type B final exam ?

Assessment summary

  • Practical quizzes: Online practical quizzes testing understanding of practical content. All quizzes need to be completed on Canvas.
  • Lab notebooks: Students will need to fill out their laboratory notebooks weekly. Marks 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. They will employ data collected during the practical sessions and use both library and internet resources to investigate the research topic and question. Students will work in small groups to prepare a 10 min PowerPoint seminar for joint presentation (10 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. 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. 16/40) 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

For more information see guide to grades.

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.

Academic integrity

The Current Student website  provides information on academic integrity 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 integrity breaches seriously.  

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

You may only use artificial intelligence and writing assistance tools in assessment tasks if you are permitted to by your unit coordinator, and if you do use them, you must also acknowledge this in your work, either in a footnote or an acknowledgement section.

Studiosity is permitted for postgraduate units unless otherwise indicated by the unit coordinator. The use of this service must be acknowledged in your submission.

Simple extensions

If you encounter a problem submitting your work on time, you may be able to apply for an extension of five calendar days through a simple extension.  The application process will be different depending on the type of assessment and extensions cannot be granted for some assessment types like exams.

Special consideration

If exceptional circumstances mean you can’t complete an assessment, you need consideration for a longer period of time, or if you have essential commitments which impact your performance in an assessment, you may be eligible for special consideration or special arrangements.

Special consideration applications will not be affected by a simple extension application.

Using AI responsibly

Co-created with students, AI in Education includes lots of helpful examples of how students use generative AI tools to support their learning. It explains how generative AI works, the different tools available and how to use them responsibly and productively.

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 Groups 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 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 Carbohydrates/partitioning 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 Flowers and seeds 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 Plant stress response 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 Data review and analysis workshop Practical (3 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5
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
Week 13 Presentations Practical (3 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5

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. demonstrate effective scientific communication by producing written, visual, and oral work on practical results and relevant topics linked to plant physiology, independently and as part of groups
  • 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

This section outlines changes made to this unit following staff and student reviews.

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


The University reserves the right to amend units of study or no longer offer certain units, including where there are low enrolment numbers.

To help you understand common terms that we use at the University, we offer an online glossary.