- identify their own ecological area;
- understand the concept of a marine or freshwater ecosystem and its key components;
- explore interrelationships among plants and animals in an aquatic ecosystem; investigate the effects of climate change on the ecosystem and its key components; and
- speculate about future impacts of climate change on the ecosystem.
Students investigate interrelationships among plants and animals in an aquatic ecosystem and explore how climate change might affect those interrelationships and the natural community as a whole.
writing materials; Internet access; field guides, library books, biology or environmental science textbooks, and other reference materials
An ecosystem is always changing. For example, a salt-marsh never stands still — it is constantly adapting to varying conditions, such as temperatures, rainfall, winds, and tides. But a major shift in the variability or magnitude of these conditions caused by climate change will affect plants and animals inhabiting the salt marsh. Life forms sensitive to warmer temperatures may flee to cooler locations at higher latitudes. Species that depend on a particular balance of fresh and salt water may end up marooned as sea levels rise. New pests and diseases, more frequent and violent storms, and changes in predator-prey relationships may lead to declines in local populations or even extinctions.
In this activity, students will focus on marine or freshwater habitats in their own ecological area, examine interrelationships among plants and animals, and investigate the impacts of climate change on an aquatic "web of life."
- Review with students, or introduce them to, the concept of ecosystems, including interrelationships among biotic and abiotic elements and the roles of producers, herbivores, omnivores, carnivores, and decomposers in a web of life.
- Ask students about ways in which climate influences plants and animals. They should consider how latitude, precipitation, and the presence of permanent or ephemeral bodies of water determine which species inhabit a region. Ask them how the seasons affect a species' life cycle — the series of changes in an organism's life — including migration, hibernation, and breeding. Develop a list of climatic influences on plants and animals for later reference.
- Have students examine a map of the ecological regions of your province, territory, or Canada as a whole. (They could start by visiting the Atlas of Canada.) The map should reflect the Ecological Classification System (ECS), which is based on the distribution of biotic and abiotic elements, including animals, plants, climate, soil, rocks, and water. The ECS describes layers of ecosystems, from huge marine and terrestrial ecozones all the way down to tiny ecosites. Canada is divided into five marine and 15 terrestrial ecozones. Ask students to use their knowledge of their part of the country — plus ECS and topographical maps — to pinpoint their ecological region and any marine or freshwater ecosystems it contains. Have the class vote on one or more aquatic ecosystems to focus upon, or choose one that students can visit on a field trip.
- Ask students to research the basic elements of the ecosystem(s) they have chosen. Some valuable sources of information include field guides, library books, and the Internet. If possible, take your class on a field trip to gather data on habitat components, species, and interrelationships. Either you or the students can design an ecosystem observation sheet that allows them to inventory key elements (see "Elements to Inventory", below).
- Your class should not only gather data but also try to get a sense of interrelationships among species, as well as links between wildlife and habitat components, or between biotic and abiotic elements. Have each student follow up the research in step 4 by illustrating a web of life that reveals the network of interconnections in an aquatic ecosystem.
- Now, students can begin to speculate about the effects of climate change on the ecosystem(s) they have observed. Ask small groups to use the list of climatic conditions, and the resource sheets linked above, to predict how climate change may affect the ecosystem(s) and wildlife inhabitants. For details on projected repercussions in various regions of the country, students can visit the Government of Canada Climate Change site. Have each group prepare an oral report on how climate change could affect an aquatic ecosystem and one or more species inhabiting it.
- The groups then present their reports to the class. Advise all students to pay close attention, as everyone will write a paper on how an aquatic ecosystem, and the web of life it contains, could alter if climate change occurs as forecasted.
- Have each student compose a written and illustrated profile of a marine or freshwater ecosystem as it looks today and as it might look in 2100, including "before" and "after" pictures of the web of life, if projected climatic changes occur.
Elements to Inventory
- Food: What is naturally available?
- Water: What is the quality of the water? Is it fresh or salt water? Are there fish or aquatic insects present?
- Shelter: Are there places where wildlife can rest, escape from predators, and take shelter year-round?
- Space: Does wildlife have room to grow and multiply?
- Species: Which producers, herbivores, omnivores, carnivores, and decomposers are present?
- Climatic conditions: What are the prevailing weather conditions? Hi does the climate affect plants and animals? Do the species exhibit adaptations to the local climate?
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