Category Archives: Ecosystems

Biome Research

Our goal for this week is for students to work together in their groups to conduct a deep-dive into their assigned biome and human-caused environmental disaster.  Students must share the work load equally, documenting their efforts in a shared team Google Doc.  Groups are expected to work together to identify scientifically credible resources and to document those resources in their Google Doc.  By Friday, everyone in the group should be able to:

  • Clearly describe the biome when it is healthy (long-term climate and major vegetation).
    • Is the weather the same year-round?  Describe in detail.
    • Are there seasons in your biome?  Describe in detail.
    • Where does your biome exist on a map?  Does your biome exist in multiple places around the world?
    • How are the organisms living in the region where your assigned disaster occurred similar or different to other parts of the world with the same biome?
  • Draw the major ecosystem(s) present within the biome as a food web (complete with nodes, edges, and properly drawn arrows indicating energy flow).
    • If your biome exists in multiple places on Earth, include food webs for each site.
  • Explain what humans did to cause the environmental disaster within the biome.
    • Specificity matters – include as many details as possible about the cause of the disaster.
    • Conduct a root cause analysis: keep asking “why” and dig as deeply as you can!
  • Clearly describe the biome when it is in crisis (as a result of the environmental disaster)
  • Explain how humans have attempted to correct the problem that led to the environmental crisis (what worked, what did not work)
  • Note: If your group finishes conducting research before Friday, craft your research into a research report.  Follow standard conventions for spelling, punctuation, and grammar.  Write in complete sentences.  Proof-read and edit!  Work as a team to construct a report you can be proud of submitting.

Your project team will be assigned a biome.  Your team may choose from the options provided, or propose a different topic (must be discussed with Mr. Swart before moving on).  If multiple groups in the same class period are assigned the same biome, teams must select different project options. Teams are expected to identify additional resources beyond those provided below and incorporate those resources into their research.

Selected Project Team Resources:

Ocean Biome

Desert Biome

Forest Biome

Arctic / Tundra Biome

Rainforest (including Jungle) Biome

Wetland (including Swamp) Biome

Mountain Biome



Ecological Challenges Presentations

Students presented their work from yesterday, with each student limited to a single minute of time to present their slide to the class describing the biome they researched and a man-made ecological disaster that occurred in that biome.  The audience was tasked with making a list in their notebooks that included the name of the presenter, the biome, and the disaster.  At the end of the presentations, students selected the top three biomes they want to continue researching.  Students will be strategically placed into groups designed to honor their interests and group identities will be revealed Monday.

Earth’s Biomes

For our final section of the year, we end our study of Ecology first by studying the biomes of Earth, and then constructing models of the biomes complete with students solving a human-made problem found within each biome.

For our first day of work, students will assemble into groups of three students each.  Requirement: team members cannot have worked on a project together yet this year!

  • Step 1: Come up with a team name
  • Step 2: Select a unique color white board marker
  • Step 3: Given the definition of biome (a large naturally occurring community of flora and fauna occupying a major habitat, e.g., forest or tundra), race to list as many of Earth’s biomes as possible in two minutes
  • Step 4: Describe the key features of each biome, including
    • climate (the weather conditions prevailing in an area in general or over a long period)
    • dominant vegetation (plants)
  • Step 5: Select three biomes and research ecological disasters caused by humans.  Be prepared to share with the class.

Notes from the white board:


Biogeochemical Poster Project

We began the week with a brief review of what to expect on the quiz scheduled for this Friday.  Class notes are shown below:


This week, students will work in groups of three students each to create a poster representing biogeochemical cycling.  For the project, students will create a poster to model the water, carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, and sulfur cycles on a poster with an emphasis on including the ecosystem of Yellowstone National Park where possible.  Students will have access to the class textbook and the class set of laptops to conduct their research.  Students will also receive the Nutrient Cycling POGIL worksheet packet that will provide them with additional information about the process of carbon (C), water (H and O), nitrogen (N), and phosphorus (P) cycling.  Sulfur is often included as a component of the biogeochemical cycle, frequently appreviated as the CHNOPS cycle.  To help keep student projects moving forward, a variety of resources will be posted here for review.

Crash Course: Carbon and Water Cycles

Crash Course: Nitrogen and Phosphorus Cycles

Bozeman Science: Biogeochemical Cycles (includes the Sulfur Cycle)

The Global Carbon Cycle – a website with data about global carbon cycling with actual numbers that need to be added to the student posters.

Water Cycle – USGS website providing a robust review of hydrologic (water) cycle vocabulary, a presentation of the cycle itself, and data students will need to add the actual amount of water stored in various locations on Earth.

Texas A&M University has a website with pages devoted to explaining the Nitrogen Cycle.  Additional in-depth information about the Nitrogen Cycle is available on the Nature Education Knowledge Project website.

Phosphorus Cycle – information about the cycle and a nice graphic from the Shmoop University website.

Sulfur Cycle – a presentation provided by The Environmental Literacy Council

Example poster

Growing, growing, grown

For our abbreviated Friday class period, students were assigned to read pages 656-661 from the BSCS biology textbook and to complete the following:

  • Summarize the main ideas
  • Define the vocabulary words (in bold) and provide context for each word (an example of what the word means in relation to what the reading is about)
  • Answer Part B, questions 3a-c, on page 647

Food Web game

After several days of research and reading, we lightened the mood with the Food Web Game.  Students teamed up into groups of three, with each team receiving a container of rice.  The rice represented seeds, which comprised the base of our food chain.  One member of the team counted out 10 grains of rice and handed them to the runner who traded them in for one lentil.  The recorder wrote a tally mark to indicate they had received a lentil on a note card.  When the team reached 10 lentils, they traded those in for one white bean (representing a red fox).  The game ended when the first team was able to trade in 10 white beans for one black bean and then all members of the team had to howl like a wolf.  The game helped represent the energy it takes to sustain a single tertiary consumer, with energy loss represented by the energy students spent running back and forth during the activity.


Trophic Pyramid of Yellowstone

We continued our study of the ecosystem of Yellowstone by introducing the concept of trophic levels.  We worked through the Trophic Pyramid PowerPoint slide deck, emphasizing the vocabulary of producers and consumers, herbivores, carnivores, and omnivores.  We took the population mass data from yesterday (see below) and began making sense of the data on the What are Trophic Pyramid handout (see below), the food webs students have been constructing, and our new understanding of trophic levels to construct a Yellowstone Trophic Pyramid.

What are Trophic Pyramids? (front)
What are Trophic Pyramids? (back)

Yellowstone Food Web

To conclude our work this week, we will assemble a food web of as many species as we can based on the research students did over the past few days into abiotic factors, biotic factors, and populations data.  Important vocabulary we will use to build our food web includes node, edge, and energy flow. Class notes are pictured below:


For your assignment today, construct a food web using the biotic factors in your Google Doc.  On the sticky note provided, write down population data for 2-3 species in Yellowstone and turn in to Mr. Swart.  We will use the class population data along with the food webs from today to dig further into the concepts of trophic cascades and carrying capacity next week.

Combined student-researched data to be used for constructing food webs:

Species Population Mass (kg)/organism Population mass (kg)
Peregrine Falcon 9 1 9
Bald Eagles 14 5 70
Wolverine 7 20 140
Canada Lynx 112 10 1120
Cougars 25 80 2000
Grey Wolves 104 34 3536
Beaver 500 23 11500
Mountain Goat 208 100 20800
Pronghorn Sheep 466 55 25630
Bighorn Sheep 328 100 32800
Black Bears 650 110 71500
Mule Deer 1850 45 83250
Grizzly Bears 610 300 183000
Moose 400 800 320000
Bison 4000 630 2520000
Elk 20000 275 5500000

Our work today is to find the mass (Google the mass of each species – look for grams (g) or kilograms (kg)).  Copy and paste the table into Google Sheets.  Fill in the mass of each organism (convert to kg) and then calculate the mass of each population using the formula in the population mass column.

Yellowstone NP Geology and Ecosystem

Yesterday we learned about the connection between the biotic (living) and abiotic (not living) factors in the ecosystem of Yellowstone National Park.  Wolves, deer, and trees are all biotic factors and connect together into a food web.  Soil, rocks, and rivers are all abiotic factors that are influenced by the activity of the food web.  Our work over the next two days is to research additional biotic and abiotic factors in the Yellowstone ecosystem, and to collect as much data as possible.  We need numbers!

Browse through the sections of the Nature & Science page on the Yellowstone National Park website.  Be warned – there is a ton of information! Your goal by the end of tomorrow is to come away with a deeper understanding of both the geology and the ecosystem of Yellowstone.  Record as many facts as you can find about biotic and abiotic factors in your Google Doc.

Biotic Factors

Find specific population numbers for as many species of plants and animals as you can and record the data in your Google Doc.  Cross-reference your list with the biotic factors you listed out yesterday.  For example, there are an estimated 10,000-20,000 elk in the park.  Be sure to read and take notes about the wildlife, plants, and life in extreme heat residing in Yellowstone.

Abiotic Factors

Read about the Geology of Yellowstone Park, taking notes about key geologic features (example: Old Faithful geyser) and how they form, along with important historic geologic events and when they occurred.  Be sure to read the following sections:

Wolves in Yellowstone

Old Faithful Live-Stream

Now that we have a plan to virtually travel to Yellowstone, we set our sights on the ecosystem of the park.  For today’s lesson, students will learn about how the reintroduction of wolves nearly 75 years after their extinction appears to have led to profound changes to both the biotic (living) and abiotic (not living) factors in the ecosystem of the park.

The video (below) features images about the wolves and other organisms in Yellowstone, with George Monbiot narrating.  The narration is actually a segment from a longer TED talk by Mr. Monbiot.

During the video, make a list in your Google Doc (from yesterday) of the biotic and abiotic factors you see in Yellowstone.  After watching the video, write down the claim being made by the narrator in their Google Doc, and then make of list of evidence used to support the claim.  Next, students are must read an article titled Has The Reintroduction Of Wolves Really Saved Yellowstone? published on March 14, 2014 by Emily Gertz in Popular Science.  After reading the article, write the counterclaim in your Google Doc and include evidence from the article to refute the original claim.

Finally, create a list of information you would need to determine whether or not wolves have impacted the ecosystem of Yellowstone National Park.

After completing the lesson, continue working on your virtual road trip plans from yesterday’s lesson.  Be sure to share the Google Doc with Mr. Swart!