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GEOG287 Plants, People and the Environment

Historical biogeography of plants; plant adaptations and vegetation dynamics; world biome types; plants and society; human impacts on vegetation.

Paper title Plants, People and the Environment
Paper code GEOG287
Subject Geography
EFTS 0.15
Points 18 points
Teaching period Not offered in 2023 (On campus)
Domestic Tuition Fees (NZD) $1,141.35
International Tuition Fees Tuition Fees for international students are elsewhere on this website.

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GEOG 101
GEOG 393
Schedule C
Arts and Music, Science
Teaching staff

Course Co-ordinator: Dr Ralf Ohlemüller

Paper Structure

The lectures in this paper will provide you with the necessary background knowledge and understanding of the main concepts and ideas covered by this paper. The paper is structured into four main parts:

  • Evolutionary and historical aspects of plant diversity
  • Environmental drivers of plant function and vegetation patterns
  • Understanding global vegetation types
  • Human uses of and threats to plants and vegetation

The laboratories linked to the paper comprise a series of practical exercises on various aspects of plant and vegetation studies to be completed over eight weeks. You will be allocated to one of five groups, and the exercises are organised on a "round robin" basis: each group progressively works through the set of exercises, week by week. A practical manual will be provided before the practical's start, and this will contain full details of each exercise, together with the necessary theory and explanatory material for each topic. A dedicated demonstrator will work with each group each week.

Assessment is 50% internal (on-going during the semester) and 50% external (final examination).

Teaching Arrangements

Two lectures per week and a series of 3-hour laboratories scheduled over the 13 weeks of semester.


There is no set textbook for this paper. Relevant primary literature will be pointed out to you during the course of the paper. It will be necessary and useful to consult a number of texts. In addition, specific sources will be listed for some of the topics, especially those relating to human impacts on vegetation, to reflect the type of research currently being carried out on these issues. Suggested reading material will be given in each lecture.

The following texts all cover some aspects of the paper and are available on reserve in the Science Library:

  • Adams, J.M. (2010) Vegetation-climate interaction - how plants make the global environment. Springer Verlag. (ebook at Otago library)
  • Archibold, O.W. (1995) Ecology of world vegetation. Chapman & Hall.
  • Bonan, G.B. (2008) Ecological climatology: concepts and applications. Cambridge University Press.
  • Breckle, S.W. (2002) Walter's vegetation of the Earth: the ecological systems of the geo-biosphere. Springer Verlag. [earlier editions are listed under the author Walter, H.]
  • Crawford, R.M.M. (2008) Plants at the margin: ecological limits and climate change. Cambridge University Press.
  • Dawson, J. & Lucas, R. (2005) The nature of plants: habitats, challenges and adaptations. Craig Potton Publishing.
  • Ganderton, P.S. (2005) Ecological biogeography. Pearson Education.
  • Gibbs, G. W. (2006) Ghosts of Gondwana: the history of life in New Zealand. Craig Potton Publishing.
  • Good, R. (1974) The geography of the flowering plants. Longman.
  • Gurevitch, J., Scheiner, S.M. & Fox, G.A. (2006) The ecology of plants. Sinauer Associates.
  • Ingrouille, M. & Eddie, B. (2006) Plants: evolution and diversity. Cambridge University Press.
  • Kareiva, P.M. (2011) Natural capital: theory & practice of mapping ecosystem services. Oxford University Press.
  • Keddy, P.A. (2007) Plants and vegetation: origins, processes, consequences. Cambridge University Press.
  • Wardle, P. (2002) Vegetation of New Zealand. Blackburn Press.
Graduate Attributes Emphasised
Communication, Critical thinking, Environmental literacy, Information literacy, Research.
View more information about Otago's graduate attributes.
Learning Outcomes

Students who successfully complete this paper will have:

  • Developed an understanding of the evolution and functioning of plants
  • Gained insights into patterns and processes shaping vegetation types and their geographic distribution at a range of spatial scales
  • Examined the threats to plants and vegetation and the natural and anthropogenic processes driving vegetation change
  • Reviewed the extent to which plants and vegetation play a role in human life
  • Developed the necessary skills for conducting basic plant identifications, vegetation surveys and data analyses

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Not offered in 2023

Teaching method
This paper is taught On Campus
Learning management system