- understand that all living things depend on healthy habitat, which includes food, water, shelter, and space;
- recognize that fluctuations in wildlife populations are natural because habitats undergo constant change and that nature is never in a state of complete equilibrium; and
- identify ways in which climate change may threaten the delicate balance of nature.
Students role-play caribou and habitat components to demonstrate the impacts of climate change on the Arctic tundra.
an indoor or outdoor area, such as a gym or playing field, in which students can run; a flip chart or chalkboard; writing materials; Bristol board; paper fastener; spinning pointer (plastic clock hand)
Climate change poses a particular challenge in the High Arctic. Here, where the Peary caribou roams, rising temperatures, shifting seasons, deepening snows, and other phenomena are threatening the tundra habitat. Habitat includes food, water, shelter, and space — all arranged just right to sustain living things. If any of these components are missing, damaged, or altered, so is their life-giving value. Wildlife populations naturally fluctuate in response to supporting and limiting factors, which keep them within predictable ranges. This "balance of nature" is more like a seesaw than a state of equilibrium, and species' numbers constantly waver in response to an abundance or lack of habitat.
In this dynamic activity, students will experience how everything in nature is interrelated; how suitable habitat sustains living things; how wild populations wax and wane depending on the availability of food, water, shelter, and space; and how climate change could throw this delicate system off balance.
- Begin by introducing the habitat components — food, water, shelter, and space — and explain that all living things must meet their needs in all four categories. Tell your students that they are about to take part in an activity about habitat and how it is threatened by climate change. Describe the risks facing the Peary caribou to show how its needs may no longer be met because of climate change on the Arctic tundra. Ideally, your class will develop some familiarity with climate change (pertinent information can be found here) before undertaking this activity.
- Draw a two-column table on a flip chart or chalkboard with the heading "Climatic Changes" above one column and "Habitat Impacts" above the other. Under "Climatic Changes," write "rising temperatures" and "increasing precipitation." Under "Habitat Impacts," list the effects of climate change on food, water, shelter, and space described in "The Land of Feast and Famine". For example, alongside "rising temperatures," you could list "more abundant food," "loss of shelter because of melting permafrost," "reduced space due to melting sea ice," and so on. Next to "increasing precipitation," you could list "more abundant food plants in summer," "more drinking water," "less space due to floods," and so on.
- Make a "climate roulette wheel" out of a round piece of Bristol board divided 10 ways and a spinning pointer held in the centre with a paper fastener. Write in each section a different habitat impact resulting from rising temperatures or increasing precipitation:
- more food thanks to boosted plant growth (rising temperatures )
- less food due to earlier blooming in spring (rising temperatures)
- less shelter because of melting permafrost (rising temperatures)
- less space resulting from melting sea ice (rising temperatures)
- less space due to shifting vegetation zones (rising temperatures) more food thanks to boosted plant growth (increasing precipitation)
- less food because of deepening snow (increasing precipitation) more water owing to profuse summer showers (increasing precipitation)
- less space due to worsening summer floods (increasing precipitation)
- less space resulting from the threat of wolf attacks in deep snow (increasing precipitation)
- Using "The Land of Feast and Famine" as a model, assign each group a role. "Ones" represent Peary caribou, "twos" represent food (shrubs, mosses, and lichens), "threes" represent water (rain and snow), "fours" represent shelter (eskers and shorelines), and "fives" represent space (open tundra and sea ice). Explain that, together, they represent caribou and habitat components, all arranged just right; that caribou will need to find food, water, shelter, and space in order to survive. When looking for food, the students will clasp their hands over their stomachs. When looking for water, they will put their hands over their mouths. When looking for shelter, they will hold their hands together over their heads. When looking for space, they will hold their arms out to the side. Caribou may pursue any one of their needs during each round of the activity. They cannot, however, change what they are seeking during that round. If they survive, they can try to meet another need in the following round.
- "Twos," "threes," "fours," and "fives" remain in their assigned roles throughout the first round, depicting habitat components in the same way that caribou show what they are looking for — that is, hands clasped over stomachs to represent food, hands over mouths to represent water, and so on.
- The game starts with all players lined up on their respective lines (caribou on one side, habitat components on the other) and with their backs to the students on the other line. Begin the first round by asking all students to make their signs, each caribou deciding what it is looking for, each habitat component assuming its role. Give the students a moment to get their hands in place — over stomachs, mouths, heads, or out to the side.
- At the count of three, groups of caribou and habitat components turn to face each other, all holding their signs. When caribou see the habitat components they need, they are to run toward them. Habitat components remain in place on their line. Each caribou holds the sign of what it is seeking until it reaches a habitat component person with the same sign. If it reaches its required habitat component, it takes the "food," "water," "shelter," or "space" back behind the caribou line, and the habitat component becomes another caribou. This action represents the caribou successfully meeting its needs and reproducing as a result. Any caribou that fails to find food, water, shelter, or space dies and will represent a habitat component in the next round. If more than one caribou reaches the same habitat component, only the one that gets there first survives.
- In the second round, climate change begins to show its effects. Demonstrate how the "climate roulette wheel" works. Spin the pointer and wait for it to stop on a habitat impact. If, for example, it lands on "more food thanks to boosted plant growth (rising temperatures)," students who represented food in round one should remain in that role. Those who represented water, shelter, or space may assume the role of food if they wish. If the pointer lands on "less food because of deepening snow (increasing precipitation)," students who represented food in round one may now change roles. Those who represented water, shelter, or space should remain in those roles. Let the students practise responding to the climate roulette wheel before beginning round two.
- Continue the game for about 15 rounds, spinning the roulette wheel so that only students representing habitat components can see it before making their appropriate signs. Keep track of how many caribou there are at the beginning of the game and at the end of each round. Keep the pace brisk, and the students will enjoy it.
- At the end of 15 rounds, gather the students together to discuss the activity. Encourage them to talk about what they experienced. For instance, a small herd of caribou may have started by finding more than enough of its habitat components. The population may have expanded over several rounds until its habitat was depleted by climate change. At that point, many caribou may have died of starvation, thirst, lack of shelter, or inadequate space.
- Use a flip chart or chalkboard to post the fluctuations in the number of caribou recorded during the activity. Each round represents a year in the life of a caribou population. The beginning of the game is year one. Each round is an additional year (see chart on this page).
- Ask the students to summarize some of the things they have learned from the activity. What does wildlife need to survive? What are some of the impacts of climate change on habitat? How do they affect the survival of caribou and other species? Are wildlife populations static or do they fluctuate as part of the "balance of nature"? How might climate change affect this balance?
Ask the students to answer the following questions:
- What are the four main habitat components?
- What are some of the impacts of climate change on habitat? Give four examples.
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