PBIO*3110 Crop Physiology

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The following description is for the course offering in Winter 2023 and is subject to change. It is provided for information only. The course outline distributed to the class at the beginning of the semester describes the course content and delivery, and defines the methods and criteria to be used in establishing the final grades for the course.

This course examines the physiological basis of crop yield determination, with emphasis on phenomena that express themselves at the whole canopy (rather than single plant) level of organization. It covers canopy scale measurements of crop growth, development, and solar radiation capture; photosynthesis, beginning at the level of biochemistry and working up to the whole canopy scale; how photoassimilates are used in the processes of respiration, growth and yield formation; and crop - environment interactions, including water stress, nutrient uptake and utilization, and light quality effects on photomorphogenesis.

In this course students will learn about canopy-scale processes that determine yield of field crops. For the Winter 2023 semester, classes and labs will be conducted face-to-face, with no remote option available. Most content will be delivered lecture-style with comprehensive notes on each topic also provided via CourseLink. The main topics are biomass accumulation and growth analysis, canopy interception of solar radiation, leaf and canopy-scale photosynthesis and respiration, radiation use efficiency, biomass partitioning and yield components, crop water use, drought stress and water use efficiency. The laboratory part of the course is structured around an ongoing growth room experiment, investigating the growth and development of an artificial crop canopy. Students will form hypotheses and make predictions about the outcome of this experiment, and use the data collected to test those predictions. Students will gain hands-on experience with the data collection methods used in the lab, and will be examined on these methods as well as the associated calculations and analyses.

Pre-Requisites: 1 of BIOL*1050, BIOL*1070, BIOL*1090


Teaching Assistant:

Sophie Kourkopoulos, Master's student, Crop Physiology, skourkop@uoguelph.ca by appt.

Credit Weight:


Course Level:

  • Undergraduate

Academic Department (or campus):

Department of Plant Agriculture



Semester Offering:

  • Winter

Class Schedule and Location:

Please refer to WebAdvisor for class schedule and location.

Learning outcomes:

By the end of this course, students should be able to:
  1. Describe the physiological processes that determine rates of dry matter accumulation in agronomic species, at levels of organization ranging from sub-cellular structures to whole crop canopies.

  2. Solve quantitative problems using SI units, in the areas of crop growth analysis, canopy absorption of radiation, leaf energy balance, diffusion theory, and leaf and whole-canopy carbon fluxes.

  3. Explain the physiological basis of crop yield reduction caused by various environmental stresses, including high and low temperatures, soil and atmospheric water deficits, and interplant competition effects.

  4. Apply principles of Crop Physiology to evaluate various management options for production of field crops.

  5. Demonstrate familiarity with a range of instrumentation used in studies of crop – environment interactions.

  6. Organize, analyze and present data from a controlled environment simulation of a crop canopy, and use it to evaluate hypotheses about crop growth and development.

Lecture Content:

As listed below, there are 22 lecture topics, normally with two presented per week.  This order may change, and in some years a few topics may be omitted or substituted to accommodate time constraints or guest lectures.
  1.     Levels of Organization – What is Crop Physiology?
  2. Crop Phenology and Rate of Development

  3. The Yield Equation

  4. The Crop Growth Curve

  5. Crop Growth Analysis

  6. Solar Radiation and Light Quality

  7. Leaf and Canopy Spectral Reflectance

  8. Reactions of Photosynthesis

  9. Leaf Photosynthetic Efficiency

  10. Diffusive Processes

  11. Distribution of PAR within the Crop Canopy

  12. Whole Canopy CO2 Assimilation

  13. Whole Canopy Photosynthetic Efficiency

  14. Molecular Basis of Respiration

  15. Functional Components of Respiration

  16. Whole Crop Respiration

  17. Assimilate Partitioning and Yield Components

  18. Water 1 – Crop Water Use

  19. Water 2 – Stomatal Regulation and the Leaf Energy Balance

  20. Water 3 – Drought Stress

  21. Water 4 – Water Use Efficiency

  22. Nitrogen Use Efficiency

Students should review the course notes for each topic prior to the scheduled lecture. This will allow us to use our lecture time in a more interactive way, focusing on questions you may have and discussing examples and applications.


Labs & Seminars:

There are 8 scheduled lab periods over the course of the semester (see table below).

For most labs, you should arrive to Rm 121B CRSC at 2:30, and expect to spend 45 min to one hour in the lab. However, the room is available for the entire 3-h period if you need more time, or would like to spend the additional time getting help from the instructional team.

If you are in Section 2 (Monday labs), then for labs 2 and 4 only, you will be given a specific time to arrive, either 2:30, 3:30 or 4:30, to facilitate sharing of equipment and access to the research spaces.

Labs 2, 4 and 5 include graded components that must be completed on paper during the lab period and handed in before you leave.

Assignment #1 and Assignment #5 are due online before the end of your assigned lab period, as indicated in the table below.

Lab Friday Monday Activity
1 20 Jan 23 Jan Lab Introduction
2 27 Jan 30 Jan Assignment #1 Due. Canopy and LAI measurements exercise
3 3 Feb 6 Feb TBD
4 10 Feb 13 Feb Respirometer measurements. Assignment #2 completed in lab.
5 3 Mar 6 Mar Canopy calculation. Assignment #3 completed in lab.
6 10 Mar  13 Mar TBD
7 17 Mar 20 Mar Flower and pod counts. Assignment #4 completed in lab
8 24 Mar 27 Mar Dataset review. Data presentation discussion.
9 31 Mar 3 Apr NO LAB. Assignment #5 due online.

Course Assignments and Tests:

Assignment or Test Contribution to Final Grade Learning Outcomes Assessed

In-class quizzes (5)


1, 2, 3, 4

Lab Assignment # 1



Lab Assignment # 2

2% 5

Lab Assignment # 3



Lab Assignment # 4



Lab Assignment # 5

20% 1, 5, 6

Final Exam

35% 1, 2, 3, 4, 5
TOTAL 100%  

Final examination:

Please refer to WebAdvisor for exam schedule and location.

Course Resources:

Required Texts:


Recommended Texts:


Lab Manual:


Other Resources:

All course materials will be posted on the course website in CourseLink. 

Lecture notes in .pdf format will generally be posted during the week prior to the scheduled lecture.  Students are strongly encouraged to review each set of notes prior to the lecture period.  This will allow us to use the scheduled lecture time for more interactive discussion.

Occasionally lectures may be delivered remotely and asynchronously (for example, if a class is cancelled due to inclement weather or instructor absence). Any such lectures will be recorded and posted to the course website.

Field Trips:


Additional Costs:


Course Policies:

Grading Policies

Any assignment submitted late is assessed a late penalty of 10% of the value of the assignment for each day or part of a day that the assignment is overdue.  Assignments submitted online are automatically given a time stamp indicating the date and time of submission.

Course Policy on Group Work: 

All graded components of this course except Lab Assignment #4 are based on individual submissions. Students are encouraged to collaborate to discuss the course content and results of experiments, but all submitted assignments must be the individual work of each student.

Course Policy regarding use of electronic devices and recording of lectures:

Electronic recording of classes is expressly forbidden without consent of the instructor. When recordings are permitted they are solely for the use of the authorized student and may not be reproduced, or transmitted to others, without the express written consent of the instructor.

Other Course Information:

University Policies

Academic Consideration

When you find yourself unable to meet an in-course requirement because of illness or compassionate reasons, please advise the course instructor in writing, with your name, id#, and e-mail contact. See the academic calendar for information on regulations and procedures for Academic Consideration:

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The Academic Misconduct Policy is detailed in the University Calenders:


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