Physiological Ecology

Requirements for Ecology students who wish to pursue the option in physiological ecology


Physiological ecology is concerned with the function and performance of organisms in their environment. A major objective is to give graduate students an understanding of the underlying physiological, morphological, biochemical, and molecular attributes of organisms with respect to the constraints imposed by the environment. A second objective is to provide graduate students with a synthetic view that attempts to explain the distribution and success of organisms measured in terms of the factors promoting long-term survival and reproduction in the environment.

Over the past few decades, physiological ecology has emerged as a distinct and critical field combining the disciplines of ecology and physiology. Dozens of recent books have been published in the field, such as the Physiological Ecology of North American Plant Communities by Chabot and Mooney and the Physiological Ecology of Wood Plants by Kozlowski, Kramer, and Pallardy. Several new journals, like Functional Ecology, Trees-Structure and Function, Tree Physiology, and Eco-Science, primarily publish physiological ecology papers.

Penn State now employs many faculty members with expertise in physiological ecology in various departments, such as Agronomy, Biology, Entomology, Forest Resources, Horticulture, Plant Pathology; most of these faculty members are affiliated with the Intercollege Graduate Degree Program (IGDP) in Ecology. These faculty members have trained many graduate students that have specialized research within the field of physiological ecology. The Physiological Ecology Option in the IGDP in Ecology was established in order to centralize and formalize the student’s training in this field. A student graduating with this option will have achieved the preparation and competence to continue research in this important area of science.

Requirements for the MS or the PhD degree in Ecology with an option in Physiological Ecology

  1. The student shall meet the normal criteria for the M.S. or the Ph.D. degree in Ecology.
  2. The student’s research advisor shall be a member of the Physiological Ecology faculty subset of the Ecology Program faculty. Other committee members may be chosen as needed, providing that Ecology Program members comprise the majority.
  3. In addition to the Ecology Program requirements, a student shall be required to take:
    • two (5-7 credits) of the following courses: BIOL 544 (Physiological Ecology), BIOL 406 (Symbiosis), HORT 445 (Plant Ecology), and PLPHY/HORT 514 (Plant Ecophysiology)
    • a minimum of 4-6 additional credits from the list of approved courses, chosen in consultation with the student’s research committee
  4. The student's M.S. or Ph.D. thesis shall, in substantial measure, contain new results in the area of quantitative ecology, as judged by the student's committee and the option coordinator.


Approved courses include:


  • AGRO 518 Response of Plants to Environmental Stress (fall, odd)
  • Crop Ecology and Physiology (3)


  • Exotoxicology (3)
  • Symbiosis (3)
  • Physiological Ecology (3) (not permitted if taking BIOL 544)
  • Modern Techniques and Concepts in Plant Cell Biology (2)
  • Physiological Ecology (4) (not permitted if taking BIOL 446)


  • Host Plant Resistance (3)
  • Chemical Ecology of Insects (3)

Environmental Resource Management

Courses are under consideration by the Ecology Program Committee (not yet approved)


  • Tree Physiology (3)
  • Forest Ecology (3)


  • Plant Nutrition (3)
  • Plant Water Relations (3)
  • Plant Ecology (3)
  • Modern Techniques and Concepts in Plant Ecophysiology (2)
  • Ecology of Plant Roots (2)


  • Bioclimatology (3)

Plant Biology (formerly Plant Physiology)

  • Plant Resource Acquisition and Utilization (4)
  • Integrative Plant Communication and Growth (4)
  • Modern Techniques and Concepts in Plant Ecophysiology (2)
  • Modern Techniques and Concepts of Plant Cell Biology (2)
  • Modern Techniques and Concepts in Plant Molecular Biology (2)
  • Ecology of Plant Roots (2)

Plant Pathology

Courses are under consideration by the Ecology Program Commitee (not yet approved)