EarthLabs for Educators > Climate and the Biosphere > Lab 7: Future of the Forest

Lab 7: Future of the Forest: Climate Patterns and Life

The lab activity described here was created by Betsy Youngman of TERC for the EarthLabs project.

Open the Student Activity in a New Window Use the button at the right to navigate to the student activity pages for this lab. To open the student pages in a new tab or window, right-click (control-click on a Mac) the "Open the Student Activity" button and choose "Open Link in New Window" or "Open Link in New Tab."


Investigation Summary and Learning Objectives

Southern Appalachian Forest. Image Source: Southern Appalachian Forest Commission.

Students return to the issue of the declining maple syrup production. Using their knowledge of the relationship between climate patterns and biomes, they predict how climate change will alter the maple syrup industry and use modeled temperature and precipitation data to select an ideal habitat range for sugar maple trees. Students will then examine other plant suitability maps and explore how climate change is impacting all plant life and what that change means for ecosystems.

After completing this investigation, students will be able to:

For more information about the topic, check the section titled Background Information under Additional Resources below


Activity Overview and Teaching Materials

In Part A: Students continue to explore the relationship between biomes and climate and, in particular, the ways in which trees migrate in response to climate change. The lab requires a live Internet connection.
Time required: 50 minutes

In Part B: Students predict changes in the sugar maple forests that are likely to result in response to climate change. The lab requires a live Internet connection.
Time required: 30 minutes

In Part C: In this culminating lab, students consider what species of trees they might plant in their local area to help offset the increasing amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. In this exercise, students also consider how climate determines which plant species are suitable for a region. See the Additional Resources section for more information on this topic. The lab requires a live Internet connection, although parts can be completed offline.
Time required: 50 minutes

Tools needed: Internet browser, Adobe Reader, Flash Player.

Time required: 130 -200 minutes, or 3-4 class periods are needed to complete these labs. (Part C can be done as homework.)


Printable Materials

To download one of the PDF or Word files below, right-click (control-click on a Mac) the link and choose "Save File As" or "Save Link As."

Teaching Notes and Tips

While the focus of this lab is the migration of trees in response to the warming climate, an important related discussion is the change in the entire ecosystem. If trees in a particular location migrate in response to climate, what happens to the rest of the ecosystem? What life forms will be similarly disrupted by a change in climate? Or by changes to the forest? Students work through several exercises examining the changing forest and then conclude by examining changes in their own "home" ecosystem and choosing appropriate tree species for the future. This a good point to take students back outside to the tree that they visited in the opening lesson. While outside, have a discussion about the changing climate and the future of their tree. Teachers may also want to invite a local arborist to come speak to the class about trees and their needs.

Part A: Teachers will want to check the links before class. Also, a review of modeling may be needed before returning to the Climate Wizard site. Students will read the Silva Culture Information – Maple Sugar tree article about the sugar maple. The key point is that the temperature and precipitation conditions that are ideal for the sugar maple may no longer be present in the southern part of this tree's range in a 30-50 year time span. Teachers can emphasize how quickly 30-50 years can pass by discussing students' plans for the future. "Can't the trees just "migrate" north to Canada?" some may ask. The answer is: the soils in Canada are not suitable for the maple tree and even if they were, the migration of trees is now more complicated as we have added roads, housing sub-divisions, and shopping malls. In the past, when the ice sheets retreated, trees adapted because the change was slow. This change in climate is many times faster. Get students thinking about the implications of climate change for their own lives in 30-50 years with the discussion described below.

Purpose of the discussion: As students look at predicted climate changes in their home region, they may need to step back and consider the implications for their own lives. How will the trees and other plants have changed? How might the change affect their recreation or livelihood in 30 -50 years? Encourage students to think beyond the next few years, to the time when they are adults. What do they hope to be doing at that time?

Facilitation Tips: Write the primary discussion question on the board. If possible, seat students facing one another in a semi-circle. Have students stand at the front to share their responses.

Primary discussion question:
Put climate change in perspective by considering the following:

  • How old will you be in 2050, 2080?
  • How much will the temperature in most of the United States have changed by 2080?
  • Give several examples of how the increase in average temperature or precipitation could impact your daily life.

Wrap Up: The discussion is open-ended and meant to get students thinking forward; there is no absolute answer.

Part B: Preview the two video clips: Sugaring Wisconsin and Maple Sugar Production (link is in lower-right corner of page) before class, be prepared to answer student questions about the maple sugaring process and why it is changing in the southern part of the range.

Scientists at Cornell University, near Ithaca, New York, have studied the changes in the onset and duration of the maple sugar season. Students will read this short synopsis of their findings: Maple Sap will flow a month earlier and work with an interactive showing the changes. The significant message in this part of the lesson is that if farmers adapt to the new time period of the sugaring season, they will still have sap flow in the northern part of the range. However, in the southern part of the range, as the climate warms, there will not be sufficient numbers of freeze days for sap flow, even if farmers adapt, the industry will not thrive.

Purpose of the discussion: This is the concluding discussion for the case study: the changes in the maple syrup sap flow. It is intended to help students to synthesize all that they have learned about climate's impact on plants, and the people who work with and depend on plants (that's all of us who eat). This lab is presented from the point of view of the farmers.

Primary discussion question: What observations of climate change do the farmers in Wisconsin and New England have in common? How has the spring run of maple sugar changed during their years of work with the maple tree?

Do you have relatives or friends that work in the out-of-doors or with plants? What can plants tell us about the weather and climate that we might not notice without them? What are the impacts of climate change on plants in your region?

Facilitation Tips: Have students make a two-column chart in their notebooks or on a piece of paper. Label one side New England the other Wisconsin. Break the class into two smaller groups to discuss their notes, assign one group to represent farmers from New England, the other Wisconsin. If necessary, replay the videos. Have the students list on their charts, the changes that are described in the videos.

After reviewing the videos and their notes, bring the class back together as a large group to compare their information and concerns. Note the similarities and differences in the two stories. One of the keys to confirming climate change is the fact that similar changes are showing up in multiple locations.

Wrap Up: Return to the Maple Syrup Sap Flow days interactive and work through it as a class. Take time to relate the change in the duration of flow to climate. Note that the sap flow days are moving towards the coldest possible period, December. Since the trees need to go through a winter "dormant period" in order for the sap to flow, the season cannot continue to move beyond this time frame.

Teachers may want to elaborate on the changes in other agricultural products by sharing the U.S. Climate Impacts by Sector: Agriculture from Lab 7A.

Part C: This lab is intended to get students thinking about trees' role in mitigating climate change as well as having the students synthesize what they have learned about habitat suitability. Time will be needed for individual (or small group) research and presentations. Resources for this research are listed on the student page and in the Additional Resources section below. Teachers may want to precede this lab with a walk around campus or a short field trip to get students thinking about their local trees, available habitats, and climate. If a field trip or walk is not possible, a slide show can be an alternative way to get "outside." Students can be asked to prepare these slide shows as a homework assignment.

Student Notebooks

The following items are suggestions for inclusion in optional printed student notebooks. The materials are linked in the Printable Materials section, above.

Assessment

There are several options for assessment of student understanding of material introduced in this lab. Teachers can choose from the following list, or create their own assessments.
Assessment Options:
  1. Assess student understanding of topics addressed in this investigation by grading their responses to the Stop and Think questions.
  2. Teachers may decide to collect and grade the final presentations.
  3. Written Test for Lab 7 (Microsoft Word 63kB Dec13 12). (Answer Key (Microsoft Word 135kB Jan25 13))

National Science Teaching Standards

The following Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) are supported by this lab:
Disciplinary Core Ideas
MS ESS3.D. 1. Human activities, such as the release ...
HS ESS3. D.
1. Though the magnitude of human impacts ...
2. Through computer simulations and other studies ...

Science and Engineering Practices:
#1 Asking and Defining Problems
#2 Developing and Using Models
#4 Analyzing and Interpreting Data
#7 Engaging in Argument From Evidence

Cross Cutting Concepts:
#4 Systems and System Models
#7 Stability and Change

Additional Resources

Background Information

No matter where you live there are plants. In this lab, students will consider the impacts of climate and climate change on the forest ecosystem. The following links emphasize the relationship between climate change and plants.

Content Extension

Students and teachers may want to look into other impacts of climate change on the United States. There are many citizen science opportunities available for students to become involved in monitoring how the climate is changing life in their own backyard. Several examples are listed below.

As a hands-on extension, teachers may consider planting trees in their own school yard or community park. Another alternative would be to arrange a visit a local plant nursery, arboretum, botanical garden, or nature center to learn more about tree species, habitats, or climate. If that is not possible, even a walk around the neighborhood can get students thinking about weather, climate, and plants.


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