Course structure

Our courses

Our international Plant Functional Traits Courses (PFTC) offer hands-on training in different applications of plant functional traits ecology within a real-life field research project setting. During each course, students will collect and explore plant functional trait data in the field and use trait-based approaches within climate change research and ecosystem ecology.

Trait-based ecology incorporates important methods and approaches that enable a powerful approach to predict how climate and biotic interactions shape plant community dynamics and ecosystem functioning. Each course will provide students with essential background knowledge and the practical field, lab, and computational skills needed for conducting their own research within trait-based ecology.

Students will be introduced to the environmental, ecological, and taxonomic diversity of the region, and given hands-on instruction in relevant theory and methods of ecophysiology; community, ecosystem, and climate change ecology; population biology; computational biology; and data management.

Students will work together in groups on projects including:

  • Assessing the role of climate and biotic interactions on plant community leaf trait composition.
  • Assessing how temperature variation and leaf functional trait influences leaf ecophysiology.
  • Quantifying how plant communities and local populations respond to disturbance or climatic manipulations along elevational gradients, i.e. warming, fire, grazing.
  • Measuring how trait composition influences ecosystem functioning by measuring CO2 fluxes within and across plant communities.
  • Assessing canopy traits through reflectance spectra: from leaf to landscape-scale using drone technologies

Our courses are aimed at graduate students – both Masters and PhD. Participants will work with international instructors as well as in teams, and will be focused on collecting data in the field to address a specific research question.

Through developing and conducting research projects to explore the potential of plant functional trait-based approaches in understanding the biodiversity and ecosystem functioning of the study area, PFTC students will build key research skills in planning and conducting trait-based field campaigns. Participants will gain practical experience in measuring plant functional traits and related physiological, plant community, and ecosystem data in the field using standard protocols. Students will become familiar with taking measurements using ecophsyiological equipment including LiCor 6400 and LiCor 7500. They will also learn about the structure and analysis of trait data, be introduced to best practice data management and reproducible coding, as well as having the opportunity to analyse and interpret data themselves. Here you can read about previous courses in China, Peru, and Svalbard.

Recently, an added element of this course is the innovative inclusion of a 'Science Communication Module’ (SCM). During the SCM, participants will complete a short research project, on-site, on local perceptions of climate change. We will then discuss these findings in light of current challenges to climate-science communication, the need to incorporate local ecological knowledge, and ethical concerns of conducting fieldwork in remote locales.

Learning outcomes

On completion of the course the student should have the following learning outcomes defined in terms of knowledge, skills and general competence:


  • The student as an overview over the environmental, ecological, and taxonomic diversity of the course study system and region,
  • Has a working understanding of the theory and methodologies of functional trait-based ecology,
  • Is familiar with the recent research literature and a diversity of approaches in plant functional trait-based ecology.



  • The student can measure plant functional traits and related plant community, physiology, and ecological data using the standard protocols,
  • Can operate relevant field and lab equipment in trait-based ecology and conduct ecological field measurements,
  • Can create and document a project data workflow according to best-practice data management and reproducible coding.


General competence

  • The student can plan and conduct a research field campaign,
  • Effectively collaborates and communicates science,
  • Can discuss broader issues relating to public perceptions and climate and climate change research.