cod. 1011542

Academic year 2023/24
2° year of course - Second semester
Academic discipline
Botanica ambientale e applicata (BIO/03)
A scelta dello studente
Type of training activity
Student's choice
36 hours
of face-to-face activities
3 credits
hub: PARMA
course unit

Learning objectives

Knowledge – On the completion of this course, students will be able to relate the diversity and distribution of plant species and community in alpine environments, to explain alpine plant adaptations in relation to environmental factors, to analyse the influence of alpine vegetation on ecosystem properties and processes, and to evaluate current research on alpine plant ecology.
Skills – On the completion of this course, students will be able to identify the most common alpine plant species and vegetation types, to measure key environmental variables, to apply scientific methods for planning data collection and analysis, and to communicate research results.



Course unit content

This course provides an opportunity to learn about the functional ecology of plants in high-elevation ecosystems, which are among the most threatened by the current climate crisis.
After the course, students will be able to use knowledge and skills to collect and interpret environmental information and use it to understand, appreciate and manage alpine ecosystems.

Full programme

During the first class, information about learning outcomes, course programme, teaching methods and assessment will be provided.
Course programme:
1) The alpine life zone and plant communities
- Alpine ecosystems and the high-elevation treeline
- Habitat and plant diversity in the alpine life zone
2) Alpine climate and bioclimates
- Common and regional features of alpine climate
- The climate alpine plants experience
3) Alpine plants, snow and water relations
- Plant responses to snowpack
- Soil moisture and plant water status at high elevation
4) Alpine plants, soil and mineral nutrition
- Alpine soil formation and types
- The nutrient status of alpine plants
5) Carbon relation and growth of alpine plants
- Uptake and loss of carbon
- Seasonality of growth and development
- Biomass production
6) Reproduction and phenology of alpine plants
- Flowering effort and phenology
- Seed germination
- Clonal propagation
7) Stress and disturbance in the alpine life zone
- Limitation, stress and disturbance in alpine environments
- Stress physiology
8) Global changes in the alpine life zone
- Change in land use and climate
- Effects of warming and drought on alpine plants
Field excursion: 3 days (2 nights) in late June/early July under variable alpine weather, involving walking on steep and unstable terrain at high elevation. During the field surveys, students will observe natural environmental gradients controlling the distribution of different plant communities and will evaluate the role of environmental drivers on plant species occurrence and functions (day 1 and 2). In addition, also considering field observations, a sampling design will be developed (day 2) and data collection will be carried out (day 3). During field excursions, students will experience teamwork under challenging alpine conditions and have the opportunity to develop new research ideas.
Depending on the number of participants and the funds available, students may be asked to pay a fee to cover accommodation costs.


Körner (2021) Alpine Plant Life - Functional Plant Ecology of High Mountain Ecosystems. Third Edition. Springer

Teaching methods

Lectures (8 in total, 2h each) in which the topics of the course will be addressed which will be presented by the teacher and discussed through active interaction with the students. The slides used during the lectures will be uploaded weekly on the Elly platform.
Field excursion (3 days) for a direct knowledge of the theoretical topics covered in the course.

Assessment methods and criteria

Oral exam to verify how the knowledge acquired during the course can be used by students to understand the functional ecology of alpine plants.
The exam will be passed when the students reply positively and adequately to two questions out of the three proposed.

Other information

Link to the Elly page of the course: