3.3 Plants & Animals

Orientation in Space

Orientation in Time

Species Interactions

Concept 1: Animals & Plants Respond to the Environment

Success Criteria & Vocabulary

Click this drop-down menu to see the Success Criteria.

  • I can discuss the reasons why animals need to respond.

Click this drop-down menu to see the list of Vocabulary.

Abiotic factor: Physical or non-living factor such as light, temperature, and humidity.

Adaptive advantage: Any trait that results in an organism having a greater chance of surviving to an age where it can reproduce.

Adaptive behaviour: Behavioural adaptations that increase an organism's chance of survival and reproductive success.

Behaviour: An organism's interactive response to its environment.

Biotic factor: Influence due to other organisms, such as competition and predation.

Environment: All the factors in an organism's surroundings that can potentially affect it.

Fitness: An organism's ability to survive and pass on its alleles to the next generation.

Habitat: The place where an organism lives.

Natural selection: Theory that individuals most suited to the environment are more likely to survive, and pass on their favourable traits to offspring.

Niche: The sum total of an organism's requirements; its way of life.


Complete Education Perfect:

Task called '3.3 Concept 1, 2, & 3'.

  • Responses to the Environment

  • RECAP: Abiotic Factors

  • RECAP: Biotic Factors and Competition

Complete sciPad:

Mark your own work using the sciPad online answers.

Learn the 10 keywords using Quizlet:

Concept 1: Support notes

The short-term and long-term responses of plants and animals to their external ENVIRONMENT are adaptive, meaning they enable these plants and animals to maximise their FITNESS in their ecological NICHE.

These short-term and long-term responses include the ways in which they orient themselves in space and time, as well as their responses to other organisms in their environment.

Before we move on, let's recap ecological concepts you learned from Year 10 and Year 12 Biology:

An organism's environment is the sum total of all the factors in its surroundings that affect it. It is quite different from its HABITAT, which is simply the place in which the organism lives.

Environmental factors can be divided into two groups: BIOTIC FACTORS, which include interactions with other organisms, and ABIOTIC or physical factors which include non-living conditions in the environment.

(If you really can't remember any of this, please go through my 2.6 Fundamentals of Ecology slides from last year.)
2.6 Fundamentals of Ecology (ADE, 2020)

The ENVIRONMENT in which any organism lives is always changing, for example, light to dark or warm to cool. Organisms need to respond to these changes in order to survive. The response of the organism is called 'BEHAVIOUR'. These behavioural responses may be simple (e.g. moving away from light), or more complex (e.g. calling and displaying for a mate).

ADAPTIVE BEHAVIOURS are behavioural adaptations that increase an organism's chance of survival and reproductive success (i.e. FITNESS - its ability to survive and pass its alleles to the next generation).

Behaviours (usually called 'responses' in plants) are subject to NATURAL SELECTION. Those responses/behaviours that increase fitness are retained in the population, because they give that organism an ADAPTIVE ADVANTAGE. Whereas those responses/behaviours that decrease fitness are eventually lost.

Are you ready to get your mind blown?

Why do animals behave in the way they do? This simple question can have two different meanings, one about the past, and one about the future.

  1. What were the events that caused the behaviour?
    This is a physiological question, and is about the past. It relates to the process going on inside the animal that gave rise to the behaviour. The answer would be in terms of hormones, nerve impulses, muscle contractions, and so on.

  2. What is the effect of the behaviour, or how does it benefit the animal?
    This is an ecological question, and concerns the future.

The physiological events that are the immediate cause of the response/behaviour are under the control of genes that were selected for over previous generations. An animal responds the way it does because the circumstances it meets in its lifetime are not greatly different from those experienced by previous generations. So, the ultimate cause of the behaviour is the advantage of that behaviour to the previous generations.

This video to the right listed 4 essential questions we must ask to understand adaptive behaviours in animals. These questions also work for understanding adaptive behaviours in plants.

  1. What stimulus causes this behaviour?

  2. What does the animal's body do in response to that stimulus?

  3. How does this behaviour helps this animal survive or reproduce?

  4. What is the evolutionary history of this behaviour?

Throughout this Achievement Standard, we will keep going back to these questions to understand adaptive behaviours in various examples.

Assessment Information


Biology 3.3 (AS91603) is a Level 3 External worth 5 credits. These 5 credits count towards your University Entrance (UE) literacy credits for Reading and Writing.

You will be assessed in the following ways:

  • Topic Test (formal) - TBC

  • Practice Exam (formal) - TBC

  • End of Year Exam (formal) - Wednesday 17 November 2021 at 2PM.

For the official description of this Achievement Standard, please read the document to the right.

Past NCEA Examinations

2020 Exam Paper & Assessment Schedule:

  • Q1: Monogamy, parental care

  • Q2: Taxis, kinesis

  • Q3: Photoperiodism, phytochrome system


2019 Exam Paper & Assessment Schedule:

  • Q1: Migration, cues, navigation

  • Q2: Taxis, interspecific competition/allelopathy

  • Q3: Pair bonding, territories, home ranges, actograms.


2018 Exam Paper & Assessment Schedule:

  • Q1: Tropism, nastic response

  • Q2: Parasitism, herbivory

  • Q3: Biological clock, actogram


2017 Exam Paper & Assessment Schedule:

  • Q1: Tropism, allelopathy

  • Q2: Migration, navigation.

  • Q3: Photoperiodism, mutualism.


2016 Exam Paper & Assessment Schedule:

  • Q1: Territoriality, agonistic behaviour, competition, mutualism, parasitism.

  • Q2: Hierarchy

  • Q3: Nocturnal, endogenous rhythm, actograms


2015 Exam Paper & Assessment Schedule:

  • Q1: Taxis, kinesis

  • Q2: Migration, territoriality, pair bonding, parental care.

  • Q3: Mutualism, predation, interspecific competition


2014 Exam Paper & Assessment Schedule:

  • Q1: Territoriality

  • Q2: Interspecific competition, allelopathy

  • Q3: Nastic responses, endogenous rhythms.


2013 Exam Paper & Assessment Schedule:

  • Q1: Parasitism, reproductive strategies

  • Q2: Endogenous rhythms, actograms

  • Q3: Tropism, auxin.