What Is An Ecosystem?

What is an Ecosystem?

There are three videos to choose from to learn about ecosystems.

The first one is better for younger kids, the second two will appeal to older kids. Feel free to watch one, or both!

You may see a number of other videos that are a deeper dive into things you might be interested in. Feel free to watch as many of those as you like. Then choose some activities and/or a project. 

High school students or any student who wants to dig deeper, continue your study with one of the advanced learning projects in the Projects section.

Take A Deeper Dive!

Grassland ecosystems are natural, terrestrial ecosystems. The landscapes are dominated by grass and have very few trees. In this video, Farzad uses his beautiful diorama to explain more about how animals and plants of the grasslands interact with each other, and their environment.

Crash Course explains how our ecosystems are made up of complex communities of living organisms interacting with their environment. This in-depth video will explain more about the different biomes around the globe and discuss some agricultural practices which help preserve them.

How can we protect the Earth’s ecosystems? Around the world, communities are making efforts to help restore and protect the ecosystems that sustain them.

Activities

Create an Ecosystem Diorama

Visit Kids Do Ecology and choose one ecosystem to research in-depth. Using your research, create a diorama to show the animals, plants, and environment. 

Use the videos below for inspiration! 

You could use:

  • A selection of junk modelling supplies – raid your recycling!
  • PVA Glue or flour and water mix for Paper Mache
  • Paints
  • Felt pens and colouring pencils
  • Old (clean!) sponges
  • Cocktail sticks
  • Coloured paper
  • Tissue paper
  • An old shoebox

Take a photo of your diorama and include it in your portfolio.

Write an Article to Bring Awareness to Human Impacts on Ecosystems

Use the websites below to research the different ways humans are negatively impacting ecosystems. You could choose a worldwide issue (such as the effects of plastic pollution on the world’s oceans) or something closer to home (perhaps there was an invasive species introduced near to where you live, or an industrial forestry area which has damaged the biodiversity).

Useful Links:

When you have conducted your research, create a newspaper report. You could choose to write this by hand, or you could use a template such as one of these from Flipsnack. Use this guide to help you structure your article.

REMEMBER: Please ask an adult before signing up to Flipsnack. There is a free service available that requires a login. To share your final Flipsnack, you will need to choose the free option and save the link.

Include a copy of your article in your portfolio.

Create a Pitfall Trap for Insect Sampling

One of the ways ecologists can study insects within an ecosystem is by using a pitfall trap. These are a very simple way to get an overview of the species living within an area.

Watch the video below for instructions on how to create your own pitfall trap.

You will need:

  • An outdoor space where your trap will not be disturbed
  • Two plastic cups of the same size
  • A soft paintbrush
  • Optional: Twigs, a brick

Remember to check with an adult before setting up your trap.

Check your trap daily and make a record of what you find. This could be photographs, a written list, or perhaps scientific drawings of the species you find.

Remember to be gentle when releasing the animals. A soft paintbrush is a great way to help them move out of the cup.

Write a summary of what you found. Were there any surprises?

Include your summary and photographs/drawings in your portfolio.

Project(s)

Create a Closed Native Terrarium

Terrariums are enclosed ecosystems that can be self-sustaining, making them a wonderful way to study an ecosystem in action.

WARNING: Before you begin, ask permission from an adult and check local by-laws. Some species in wild spaces will be protected and illegal to remove from their natural habitat. If you have any doubts, you can create a terrarium with plants from your garden or shop-bought plants, and it will be just as successful.

To make your terrarium you will need:

  • An airtight container (for example a glass jar with a screw lid)
  • Some rocks or gravel
  • Soil
  • A small selection of small plants and mosses (collected locally or shop bought, choose moisture and humidity loving plants e.g. mosses or ferns)
  • Small pieces of bark or wood for landscaping
  • Activated carbon/Horticultural charcoal
  • Optional: porous mesh

Step 1: Find your container and make sure it is clean.

Step 2: Add the rocks or gravel as a drainage layer.

Step 3: Add a layer of activated carbon/horticultural charcoal. 

This is essential! It acts as a filter and keeps the air clean. 

Step 4: Add your soil.

Step 5: Add your plants and mosses.

Step 6: Add any finishing touches – bark, wood, shells – be creative!

Remember to take a photo of your terrarium and include it in your portfolio.

To see what your terrarium may look like after a month, check out this update from Natural World Facts.

Write a Journal

Take a walk through your local area and make a record of which ecosystems you can see. Remember, ecosystems can cover a large area (e.g. temperate forests) but they can also be very small (e.g. the area underneath a log pile). Try to record at least one big ecosystem and two smaller ones.

Write a journal entry to share your findings. You could include sketches or photographs if you are feeling artistic!

Make sure to include a copy of your journal in your portfolio.

Advanced Project(s)

Choose at least one.

There are many ways in which Ecologists can study the animals and plants in a given ecosystem. Ecologists need to know how many of each species are in an area, however, counting individual organisms is often impractical.

Rather than counting every individual, we can sample the number of organisms and, using this data, calculate an average for the area. There are many different sampling techniques, so it is important to choose the correct technique for each species. 

One of the factors to consider before choosing a technique is whether the species they are studying is sedentary (remaining still) or migratory (moving around the environment). 

Whichever technique we choose, we must also make sure that we take a random sample to avoid any bias in our results, and ensure that the sample is representative of the population. If the sample is too small, we might be gaining incorrect information.

Create your own quadrat and conduct an experiment

Quadrats are a highly valued ecology tool! They are simple to use and enable ecologists to measure population size and understand community structure.

To make your own quadrat you will need:

  • Scissors
  • 4 x 12” long sticks or garden canes
  • String
  • Optional: Duct tape or similar

Method: 

  • Click this link to visit Southampton University’s BioBlitz website for simple instructions on building your quadrat. 

N.B In this method, they suggest using Duct tape for the corners of the quadrat. A more eco-friendly option would be to use string to lash the sticks together.

Once you have made your quadrat, you will be ready to carry out an investigation. You could visit a local park, a nature reserve, or even your own garden. Always check the area you wish to sample for any hazards to ensure you are safe, and be aware of any members of the public who may be using the area. Use this template from MontgomerySchoolsMD.org to help you structure your scientific report.

Preliminary observations:

Stand in the area and make some preliminary observations. Sketch the area and label any key features, for example any buildings, large plants (trees and shrubs), pathways (whether animal paths or manmade), slopes. Think about whether the area is sheltered or exposed, and what level of sunlight may reach the ground. Make a note of any key areas of vegetation, and names of any plants you already know.

Sampling:

  1. Follow this method from Practical Biology to gather your sample.  
  2. On your sheet, make a tally of the different species you can see in your quadrat. You may wish to photograph or draw each of the different species.

Conclusions:

Write a paragraph explaining the significance of what you found out. You might like to think about which species were in the area, any biological reasons they might thrive in the space, and if there were any species present which you didn’t expect.

Include a write up of your experiment in your portfolio, along with any sketches or photographs you may have taken.

Create a Powerpoint Presentation

Use PowerPoint or similar digital format to create a presentation about ecosystems. Think through the 5Ws (who, what, where, why, when) when deciding what information to include. 

Make sure that there is at least one slide addressing each of:

  • What an ecosystem is
  • Examples of different ecosystems, both big and small
  • Why ecosystems are important
  • The effects of human impact on ecosystems (both negative and positive)

Include your presentation in your portfolio. Write a description and then provide a link.

Books

Read Aloud Book(s)