Academic journal article Science Scope

Simulating Biodiversity: The Effects of Human and Environmental Factors

Academic journal article Science Scope

Simulating Biodiversity: The Effects of Human and Environmental Factors

Article excerpt

Our students often struggle to understand how human actions and natevents combine to affect the biodiversity of a community of plants and animals over time. As part of a larger unit in which students measure the current biodiversity in their urban school yards, we developed a simulation-type game where students could quickly see how various factors, small and large, human dominated and natural, affect community of plants and animals. This particular lesson falls midway through the unit, after students have been introduced to the concept of biodiversity and measures of biodiversity and begun their own investigation of bird biodiversity in the school yard. Our goals were for students to develop an understanding of (1) how changes that directly affect a single species can lead to a cascade of events in a community, (2) how humans have both positive and negative impacts on urban biodiversity, and (3) how small changes within their school yard can have a positive effect on biodiversity. Later in the unit, students apply this understanding of how events affect the biodiversity of a community to make sense of the data they collect in their school yard.

The lesson

Engage: What affects biodiversity?

We begin the lesson by drawing out students' initial conceptions about factors that affect the biodiversity of a community. Students have already been introduced to what biodiversity is and explored basic measures of biodiversity. In this lesson, we have students brain-storm in response to two questions: What are the factors that promote or improve biodiversity? What are the factors that reduce biodiversity? Since the focus here is on drawing out student ideas, we do not provide "correct" answers. We give students five minutes to brainstorm individually or with a partner and then share these ideas as a whole class. If students struggle to think of factors that promote biodiversity, we suggest they consider areas of the world where they think there is high biodiversity and think about the characteristics of those areas. Biodiversity tends to be greater in areas that are warmer and wetter (such as rain forests). Decreases in temperature and water availability tend to lead to lower levels of biodiversity. Human-induced factors, including habitat fragmentation, exotic species invasions, nutrient enrichment, and climate change, can also affect biodiversity (Isbell 2012). Like-wise, humans have increased the biodiversity of areas through developing and linking fragmented habitats. Following the discussion, students are told they are going to explore how some factors affect the biodiversity of a site by playing a game and provided a copy of the Activity Worksheet


Explore: The Biodiversity Game, round 1

Each group of three students is given a set of cards (Figure 1) representing five common bird species and five common plant species and a set of counters, such as poker chips, pennies, or beans, which represent individuals of these organisms. Each group is provided with different starting populations, allowing students to see how different population structures affect the population over time (Figure 2). The populations vary in size and evenness, or the number of different species present Once given their population, students place the appropriate number of counters on each card. One student should be in charge of birds, one plants, and the third recording the data on the data table (Figure 3).

Before the game begins, students use an online calculator to determine the three measures of biodiversity (richness, abundance) for their community. They use this information to predict whether their community will survive changes in the urban environment over time. As described above, we use this lesson as part of a larger module on biodiversity that introduces students to measures of biodiversity prior to this lesson. When we use this lesson as a stand-alone activity, we have students calculate the two simplest measures of biodiversity, richness and abundance. …

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