AB-326 Arctic Plant Ecology (10 ECTS)






Autumn semester (June–July), every second year. Cancelled in 2023.

AB-326/826 students on fieldwork at Hiorthhamn. Photo: Ingibjörg Svala Jónsdóttir/UNIS

Grade:Letter grade (A through F)
Course Cost:NOK 1600 (8 days x NOK 200 per overnight stay)
Course Capacity Min/Max:10/20 students (AB-326/826 in total)
Language of instruction:English
Examination support material:Bilingual dictionary between English and mother tongue

Course requirements

Enrolment in a relevant master programme in biology.

Academic content

Arctic plant ecology and Arctic plant biogeography is introduced by lectures. In seminar discussions based on the course literature certain topics will be dealt with in depth, such as adaptive plant traits, biotic interactions, species diversity, community differentiation, ecological gradients, and impacts of climate change and other environmental changes. The course takes advantage of the sharp climatic gradients present within the Svalbard archipelago when introducing the Arctic flora, vegetation and bioclimatic sub-zonation of the Arctic biome.

Strong emphasis is on field investigations and hands-on research experiences. Through various field activities and student-led research projects, we investigate how species composition and their physiological and morphological traits are related to variation in biotic and abiotic factors at different spatial and temporal scales. Biotic interactions include factors such as herbivory and pollination, whereas abiotic factors include for instance impact of topography, snow distribution, bedrock and disturbances by periglacial processes on terrestrial ecosystems. Students are trained in application of ecological theory and methodology on problems through field studies. Special training is given in teamwork and flexible project planning under challenging and harsh Arctic conditions.

Before field work, students work in groups to develop a research project to be executed during field work. Students document their learning process through a reflective diary and development of concept maps. Student present results from their student-led projects  in an oral presentation. The final assessment is a take-home exam, where students are asked to write a proposal for a research project related to their student-led project, but refined based on the content knowledge and practical experiences gained through the course.

Learning outcomes

Upon completing the course, the students can:


  • explain and relate biodiversity and biogeography of Arctic plants
  • explain Arctic plant adaptations that enable survival under Arctic conditions, and relate these to environmental factors and adaptive potential
  • explain and analyse biotic interactions and ecosystem functioning in high Arctic terrestrial ecosystems with focus on vegetation
  • explain and evaluate major environmental factors that control vegetation differentiation
  • apply gained knowledge to examine relationships among abiotic and biotic factors in the field, and interpret and evaluate current research within Arctic plant ecology and biodiversity.


  • apply scientific methods and established ecological theories in project planning, data collection and data analysis
  • identify the most common Arctic plants (vascular, bryophytes and lichens).
  • describe and differentiate common high-Arctic vegetation types
  • measure major environmental factors and basic soil characteristics
  • interpret ecological data based on statistical evaluation and established ecological theory.

General competences

  • master research teamwork when doing field studies under challenging Arctic conditions
  • evaluate and develop research ideas
  • communicate research plans and results orally and in writing.

Learning activities

The course extends over five weeks (+ take-home exam) and is run in combination with AB-826.

Prior to arrival in Svalbard students are encouraged to read primary literature that has been sent to them in advance, and prepare for seminars. After arrival at UNIS, the course extends over five intensive weeks (+ take-home exam) including compulsory safety training. See “Academic content” for an overview of other learning activities.


  • Total lecture/seminar hours: 34 hours.
  • Lab work: 20 hours.
  • Field cruise: 8 days.
  • Day excursions: 3 days.

Compulsory learning activities

  • Literature seminars, reflective diary entries, fieldwork and other course project work.
  • All compulsory learning activities must be approved in order to sit the exam.


  • All assessments must be passed in order to pass the course.
  • Each assessment (project work and take-home exam) is graded, and subsequently combined into a single grade. Partial grades for each of the two assessments will be available.
MethodPercentage of final grade
Project work (group work); assessed based on:
Delivered research plan
1) Reflections of experiences related to planning and executing inquiry based student-led research project (evaluated based on reflective diaries)
2) One-page written summary of results delivered as an extended abstract to the “Arctic Plant Ecology”-symposium
3) Oral presentation at the “Arctic Plant Ecology”-symposium
Take-home exam (individual), submitted about one week after the course ends50%

Student life

Students counting moss
AB-326/826 students counting mosses during the course cruise. Photo: Pernille Bronken Eidesen/UNIS.
Students on land
AB-326/826 excursion on land during course cruise. Photo: Pernille Bronken Eidesen/UNIS.