ALEX Lesson Plan


Biodiversity survey: Local ecosystem and food web investigation

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  This lesson provided by:  
Author:Roseanne Stone
System: Etowah County
School: Hokes Bluff High School
  General Lesson Information  
Lesson Plan ID: 30719


Biodiversity survey: Local ecosystem and food web investigation


This is a hands on lesson in which students will explore their local community to identify living things. It can be used as part of a unit on biodiversity and energy transfer within a biology, zoology, or environmental science course, or as an enrichment assignment for AP biology or AP environmental science. This interdisciplinary high school lesson provides students with real life experience towards mastering objectives in art, English, science, technology, social studies, and math.

 Associated Standards and Objectives 
Content Standard(s):
SC (9-12) Biology
5. Identify cells, tissues, organs, organ systems, organisms, populations, communities, and ecosystems as levels of organization in the biosphere.
  • Recognizing that cells differentiate to perform specific functions
  • Examples: ciliated cells to produce movement, nerve cells to conduct electrical charges
    SC (9-12) Biology
    9. Differentiate between the previous five-kingdom and current six-kingdom classification systems.
  • Sequencing taxa from most inclusive to least inclusive in the classification of living things
  • Identifying organisms using a dichotomous key
  • Identifying ways in which organisms from the Monera, Protista, and Fungi kingdoms are beneficial and harmful
  • Examples:
  • Justifying the grouping of viruses in a category separate from living things
  • Writing scientific names accurately by using binomial nomenclature
  • SC (9-12) Biology
    10. Distinguish between monocots and dicots, angiosperms and gymnosperms, and vascular and nonvascular plants.
  • Describing the histology of roots, stems, leaves, and flowers
  • Recognizing chemical and physical adaptations of plants
  • Examples:
    chemical—foul odor, bitter taste, toxicity;
    physical—spines, needles, broad leaves
    SC (9-12) Biology
    11. Classify animals according to type of skeletal structure, method of fertilization and reproduction, body symmetry, body coverings, and locomotion.
    skeletal structure—vertebrates, invertebrates;
    fertilization—external, internal;
    reproduction—sexual, asexual;
    body symmetry—bilateral, radial, asymmetrical;
    body coverings—feathers, scales, fur;
    locomotion—cilia, flagella, pseudopodia
    SC (9-12) Biology
    13. Trace the flow of energy as it decreases through the trophic levels from producers to the quaternary level in food chains, food webs, and energy pyramids.
  • Describing the interdependence of biotic and abiotic factors in an ecosystem
  • Examples: effects of humidity on stomata size, effects of dissolved oxygen on fish respiration
  • Contrasting autotrophs and heterotrophs
  • Describing the niche of decomposers
  • Using the ten percent law to explain the decreasing availability of energy through the trophic levels
  • SC (9-12) Environmental Elective
    1. Identify the influence of human population, technology, and cultural and industrial changes on the environment.
  • Describing the relationship between carrying capacity and population size
  • SC (9-12) Environmental Elective
    12. Identify positive and negative effects of human activities on biodiversity.
  • Identifying endangered and extinct species locally, regionally, and worldwide
  • Identifying causes for species extinction locally, regionally, and worldwide
  • SC (9-12) Zoology Elective
    4. Use taxonomic groupings to differentiate the structure and physiology of invertebrates with dichotomous keys.
  • Identifying examples and characteristics of Porifera
  • Identifying examples and characteristics of Cnidaria
  • Identifying examples and characteristics of Mollusca
  • Identifying examples and characteristics of worms, including Platyhelminthes, Nematoda, and Annelida
  • Identifying examples, characteristics, and life cycles of Arthropoda
  • Identifying examples and characteristics of Echinodermata
  • SC (9-12) Zoology Elective
    5. Use taxonomic groupings to differentiate structure and physiology of vertebrates with dichotomous keys.
  • Identifying examples and characteristics of the three classes of fish
  • Identifying examples and characteristics of Amphibia
  • Identifying examples and characteristics of Reptilia
  • Identifying examples and characteristics of Aves
  • Identifying examples and characteristics of Mammalia
  • SC (9-12) Zoology Elective
    6. Identify factors used to distinguish species, including behavioral differences and reproductive isolation.
    SC (9-12) Zoology Elective
    8. Differentiate among organisms that are threatened, endangered, and extinct.
    threatened—bald eagle,
    endangered—California condor,
  • Identifying causative factors of decreasing population size
  • Examples: overcrowding resulting in greater incidence of disease, fire destroying habitat and food sources
    AED (7-12) Visual Arts: Level I
    1. Create original works of art from direct observation.
  • Organizing spatial relationships utilizing linear and atmospheric perspective
  • Creating the illusion of three-dimensional forms through tonal rendering
  • Incorporating traditional categories of subject matter into original works of art
  • Examples: drawing a still life, painting a landscape, sculpting a portrait
    TC2 (9-12) Computer Applications
    11. Critique digital content for validity, accuracy, bias, currency, and relevance.
    ELA2015 (10)
    39. Apply knowledge of language to understand how language functions in different contexts, to make effective choices for meaning or style, and to comprehend more fully when reading or listening. [L.9-10.3]
    a. Write and edit work so that it conforms to the guidelines in a style manual (e.g., Modern Language Association's MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, American Psychological Association's Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association) appropriate for the discipline and writing type. [L.9-10.3a]
    SC2015 (9-12) Biology
    7. Develop and use models to illustrate examples of ecological hierarchy levels, including biosphere, biome, ecosystem, community, population, and organism.
    SC2015 (9-12) Biology
    8. Develop and use models to describe the cycling of matter (e.g., carbon, nitrogen, water) and flow of energy (e.g., food chains, food webs, biomass pyramids, ten percent law) between abiotic and biotic factors in ecosystems.
    SC2015 (9-12) Biology
    13. Obtain, evaluate, and communicate information to explain how organisms are classified by physical characteristics, organized into levels of taxonomy, and identified by binomial nomenclature (e.g., taxonomic classification, dichotomous keys).
    a. Engage in argument to justify the grouping of viruses in a category separate from living things.
    SC2015 (9-12) Biology
    15. Engage in argument from evidence (e.g., mathematical models such as distribution graphs) to explain how the diversity of organisms is affected by overpopulation of species, variation due to genetic mutations, and competition for limited resources.
    SC2015 (9-12) Environmental Science
    3. Use mathematics and graphic models to compare factors affecting biodiversity and populations in ecosystems.
    SC2015 (9-12) Environmental Science
    4. Engage in argument from evidence to evaluate how biological or physical changes within ecosystems (e.g., ecological succession, seasonal flooding, volcanic eruptions) affect the number and types of organisms, and that changing conditions may result in a new or altered ecosystem.
    SC2015 (9-12) Environmental Science
    16. Obtain and evaluate information from published results of scientific computational models to illustrate the relationships among Earth's systems and how these relationships may be impacted by human activity (e.g., effects of an increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide on photosynthetic biomass, effect of ocean acidification on marine populations).

    Local/National Standards:


    Primary Learning Objective(s):


    Students will:

    • demonstrate knowledge of identifying species though the usage of dichotomous keys and binomial nomenclature. 

    • identify and discuss the affects of human activities on biodiversity.

    • create a local food web for display that illustrates organisms found in the local ecosystem and the relationships between those organisms. 

    • compose an essay where they reflect on their field research experience and report their research methods and findings. 

    Additional Learning Objective(s):

    To conclude the lesson students will collaborate to create a complex food web to illustrate local biodiversity and feeding relationships. Species represented in the food web must be hand drawn by students and include the common name, scientific name, list the organism as a consumer or producer and if the organism is a consumer, list what type. Arrows will be drawn to illustrate energy transfer between organisms. Along with the collaborative food web, students will also individually compose an essay on local biodiversity. In this essay the students will reflect on their personal experience of field work, describe their methods of research and share their findings. Rubrics for the essay and class food web are provided in the attachments.

    The student will survey an area for their assigned classification of organism. Students will collect field data in the form of observations and, where possible, collect organisms. Students will make observations on the anatomical structures and body coverings of the organism to verify characteristics that will be used in determining the genus and species of the
    organism. Students will then evaluate dichotomous keys to correctly name the organism. In some cases students may have to collaborate in order to correctly identify an organism. Students will argue their positions while collaborating with others in order to determine the genus and species of the organism. After the organisms have been identified students will use approved resources to determine the geographic range of the organism as well as the conservation status. Students will include information in the findings portion of their essay on the conservation status of the organism and must be able to differentiate between stable, threatened, endangered or extinct species. In this section students will list any efforts that
    have been made to protect organisms as a natural resource. Students will also include information on the location of the species and if the species was found outside of its specified geographic range. Students will propose reasons for the anomalous geographic location of the organism. Students will also examine the role of an organism within larger ecosystems and
    discuss human impacts on ecosystems.



     Preparation Information 

    Total Duration:

    Greater than 120 Minutes

    Materials and Resources:

    Students will need: colored pencils, butcher paper, field guides, nets, measuring tape, string, hammer, nails, shovel, gloves, collection jars, small buckets, magnifying glass, forceps, plastic cups, binoculars, gallon size plastic bags, pint size plastic bags, pencil, and paper.

    Recommended field guides are: Trees, grasses and weeds, flowers, freshwater fishes, mammals, birds, insects, spiders, mushrooms and fungus, amphibians, reptiles, shellfish and mollusks. It may also be useful to have an animal track identification guide.

    Safety Warning: Teacher should be aware of students with insect or environmental allergies and accommodate as needed. Students should be able to recognize poisonous plants and animals. If necessary, show students examples of poisonous plants and animals from your area. Students should exercise caution and exercise proper handling when dealing with plants or animals. Students will need to be dressed for field work wearing long sleeves, long pants and closed toe shoes.


    Technology Resources Needed:

    Students will need: Computers with Internet access and digital cameras if available.


    To prepare for this lesson the teacher should consider where the students will conduct their field research. For rural schools it is appropriate to conduct the field study on campus. For schools that are located in an urban area it would be better to allow students to take home equipment to conduct their research in their yard, or in a park. Ideally, if the school was in an urban area it would be best to visit a sanctuary, state park or preserve in order to conduct field research.

    In order to successfully complete this assignment students will need the following background knowledge:

    · Students should be familiar with terminology related to the basics of anatomy. Examples: Dorsal, caudal, anterior, superior, plantar
    · Students should also be familiar with patters of body symmetry.
    · Students should be able to contrast autotrophs and heterotrophs and be familiar with the types of heterotrophs.
    · Students will need to be experienced in identifying organisms using a dichotomous key and writing scientific names accurately by using binomial nomenclature.

    To introduce the lesson the instructor should review to make sure that students have the required background knowledge to succeed. The instructor should introduce the concept of interdependence within an ecosystem and stress the importance of every biotic and abiotic factor existing in unison to create a thriving ecosystem.



    Before the first day of field research the teacher should remind students to dress appropriately for the next class session and cover safety topics related to field study and working with live specimens. Mark off several 2 square meter quadrants in various areas with insects, grasses and weeds.

    The following procedures are based on block scheduling and conducting the field research on campus.

    Day 1

    On the first day the teacher will introduce the lesson and assign each student a field guide. This field guide will be the basis of student research. For instance, if the student is assigned a bird field guide they will only focus on birds in the field study. Students may choose which classification of organism they will research if possible. If necessary, students may be placed in groups of two or three and each group will focus on a classification of organism for their research. If the students are in collaborative groups they must still write an individual essay. (Students who are working with grasses, weeds, or insects should work in a smaller area than those students who have been assigned other organisms. These students can use the quadrants that have been marked off by the teacher.) The teacher will outline the perimeter for the field stud, provide students with equipment to collect samples, and direct students to begin their research. The teacher should circulate among students as much as possible and, if necessary recruit parents or school staff to help monitor students.

    Day 2

    On day two, students will continue field research for 45 minutes then return to class to identify the organisms observed or collected during their research. They will use their field guides and dichotomous keys to identify organisms. Students may also use Internet resources including NatureServe Explorer ( to assist in identifying organisms as well as investigating their geographic range and conservation status.

    Day 3

    On day three students will continue to identify and research organisms if necessary using the same procedures from day two. Students will also collect information on the feeding habits of organisms they are researching as well as how human activities affect biodiversity.

    Day 4

    On day four students should tie up any loose ends related to their research. Students will draw their researched organism on the large butcher paper and include the scientific name, common name, producer or consumer and the type of consumer if applicable. After each organism is drawn on the paper, as a class you can discuss the feeding relationships within the local ecosystem. Then students will draw arrows from the organism that is eaten to the organism that consumed. Ex: from the field mouse to the snake. The head of the arrow should point to the organism that receives energy. Now is the time to discuss the rule of 10 as related to trophic levels. After the drawing is complete hang it in the hall outside the classroom for everyone to see.

    Day 5

    On day five students should turn in their essays on their research experience, methods, and conclusions. Students will also present their essays to the class in the form of a summary. The teacher should conclude the lesson by reviewing all objectives that the students mastered during their investigation and allowing students to think about what they learned as it relates to the objectives. The teacher should bring the lesson full circle by discussing the importance of every component of an ecosystem and the impact humans have on ecosystems. Complete the lesson by asking for student questions or comments.


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    Assessment Strategies


    Students will be graded on content knowledge, technology use, individual essay, field research, class food web, and collaboration.  Rubrics will be provided to assist students in planning assessment products.  Rubrics for class food web, essay and presentation are provided in the attachment section.



    Students can work with population density of a species within a given geographic range by examining the number of a certain species found in a quadrant. For instance if twelve crickets are found within a 2 square meter quadrant, what would the population density be for an area that is 2000 square meters? The numbers for this extension can be obtained from the data collected by students who are researching weeds, grasses or insects in two square meter quadrants. Then take the total square meters for the entire field study to calculate an estimate based on sample size.


    If weaknesses are identified while reviewing during the lesson introduction, the teacher can work with students in small groups to address any weaknesses. While students are working to identify organisms using dichotomous keys the teacher will monitor students to ensure that all students are familiar with the procedure and terminology. If further remediation is required in identifying organisms, or correctly using scientific names, the teacher should provide individual instruction to ensure that the concept is mastered.

    Students often have difficulty understanding energy transfers between organisms. Before the lesson, the teacher can illustrate energy transfers using pyramids to convey the relationship of producers at the base and the top consumer at the apex. The highest concentration of energy is at the base with the lowest at the top. As the pyramid widens from the base to the apex, the organisms closer to the top have to consume more than those closer to the bottom to survive. After the lesson if students need additional remediation in understanding energy transfers the instructor can provide individual instruction. The instructor should prioritize assignments and/or steps to completing assignments for students to ensure that they use their time wisely.


    Each area below is a direct link to general teaching strategies/classroom accommodations for students with identified learning and/or behavior problems such as: reading or math performance below grade level; test or classroom assignments/quizzes at a failing level; failure to complete assignments independently; difficulty with short-term memory, abstract concepts, staying on task, or following directions; poor peer interaction or temper tantrums, and other learning or behavior problems.

    Presentation of Material Environment
    Time Demands Materials
    Attention Using Groups and Peers
    Assisting the Reluctant Starter Dealing with Inappropriate Behavior
    Be sure to check the student's IEP for specific accommodations.