In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Plant Population Ecology

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Journals
  • Plant Demography
  • Plant Metapopulations
  • Population Viability Analysis (PVA)
  • Local Adaptation

Ecology Plant Population Ecology
Andrew C. McCall
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 October 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 October 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199830060-0191


Plant population ecology is a broad topic that involves aspects of (see the Oxford Bibliographies articles on Ecology “Community Ecology,” evolutionary biology, and “Conservation Biology.” Demography is one of the foundational areas in plant population ecology and has been reviewed in the literature for many decades. Plant demographic techniques have advanced quickly since the 1970s, and researchers can now apply them to new questions. Population growth rates, which are often studied by demographers, are especially important for populations that are small or fragmented. The metapopulation concept, originally developed for animals, can be applied to plant populations that are connected by gene flow but that are also subject to rapid extinction by disturbance. Inter- and intraspecific “Competition in Plant Communities” can also affect population growth measures such as survival and fecundity. Interactions with animals often impact how a population grows or declines over time. For example, herbivores can depress population growth rates, and pollinators and dispersers of seeds are crucial in determining individual plant fitness. These interactions can be affected by the mating systems of plants. For example, inbred individuals may suffer greater negative impacts of herbivory than outcrossed individuals, and outcrossed individuals may produce larger or more symmetric flowers, leading to more efficient pollination. All of these interactions can affect local adaptation in plants as a consequence of natural selection.

General Overviews

Harper 1977 was one of the early foundational works in plant population ecology. This work organized and started the modern study of plant populations, and its influence is enormous. Although many of the methods that Harper mentioned are outdated, the conceptual issues he addressed are still being investigated. Solbrig, et al. 1979 provided a review of the field that set the stage for later comprehensive works. Dirzo and Sarukhan 1984 showed the wide range of the field. Gurevitch, et al. 2006 is a good introduction to the field and addresses all aspects of plant ecology, with particular emphasis on the integration of ecological and evolutionary topics. Silvertown and Charlesworth 2009 is one of the most important works in the field that has extensive sections on population dynamics, intraspecific interactions, and evolutionary topics. For a text on important field and analytical methods, one needs to read Gibson 2015, which provides in-depth information on all of the techniques used in the 21st century. Cheplick 2015 is a must read for anyone interested in plant populations, with important sections on experimental methods and plant-animal and plant-microbe interactions.

  • Cheplick, Gregory P. 2015. Approaches to plant evolutionary ecology. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

    A concise and important work that considers natural selection in plants, experimental approaches to studying plant populations, and interactions between plants and animals, microbes, and pollinators.

  • Dirzo, Rodolfo, and Jose Sarukhan, eds. 1984. Perspectives on plant population ecology. Sunderland, MA: Sinauer Associates.

    An influential edited volume with a good listing of the types of topics included in the discipline.

  • Gibson, David J. 2015. Methods in comparative plant population ecology, 2d ed. Oxford and New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

    A useful and influential text on the latest analytical and field methods in plant population ecology. In particular, Gibson provides in-depth coverage on all of the field methods.

  • Gurevitch, Jessica, Samuel M. Scheiner, and Gordon A. Fox. 2006. The ecology of plants, 2d ed. Sunderland, MA: Sinauer Associates.

    An important text suitable for advanced undergraduates and beginning graduate students. Particularly impressive for its clear text and insightful graphics.

  • Harper, John L. 1977. Population biology of plants. New York: Academic Press.

    Probably the most important work in the field. Harper clearly explains the uses of demographic techniques and foreshadows many of the current topics being investigated today.

  • Silvertown, Jonathan, and Deborah Charlesworth. 2009. Introduction to plant population biology. 4th ed. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley-Blackwell.

    This is the most important modern overview of the field and is essential for those interested in starting research on plant populations. Has a particularly comprehensive section on the genetic and evolutionary aspects of plant population biology.

  • Silvertown, Jonathan, Miguel Franco, and John L. Harper, eds. 1997. Plant life histories: Ecology, phylogeny, and evolution. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    An important collection of papers integrating ecological and phylogenetic perspectives.

  • Solbrig, Otto T., Subodh Jain, George B. Johnson, and Peter H. Raven, eds. 1979. Topics in plant population biology. New York: Columbia Univ. Press.

    This collection of essays set the stage for the many edited volumes on PPE that followed.

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