This is a partially developed activity description. It is included in the collection because it contains ideas useful for teaching even though it is incomplete.

Initial Publication Date: October 25, 2010

Climate, Ecoregions, and the Mammals Who Live in Them

This activity was developed during the Teaching Climate Change from the Geological Record workshop, held in August 2010.
Contributed by Jonathan Hoffman, Beth Johnson, and Mark Merrit

Studying mammal assemblages and how they have changed with climate over time

Course Type: High school level to undergraduate level


An ecoregion is a large area of land or water defined by environmental conditions, particularly climate, landforms, and soil conditions. Mammals living in a particular ecoregion will develop certain characteristics that allow them to survive under these conditions. An example would include the Barren Ground Musk Ox, which has developed a very thick undercoat in order to keep warm in bitterly cold temperatures.

Select three distinct ecoregions in North America using the Smithsonian website for North American Mammals. Make sure to check the box to show ecoregions on the map. It helps to zoom in twice. The maps should now display labels of ecoregions. Click on "Ecoregion Search" and select one of those ecoregions to see a faunal list. Compare and contrast the mammal assemblages for each of these regions in the context of climate. When making these comparisons, identify unique taxa within an ecoregion as well as taxa commonly found across ecoregions. Also, pay particular attention to the attributes these mammals have in order to be able to survive in each climate. Be prepared to discuss your observations with the class. For college courses, this exercise can be used to introduce the different concepts of biological diversity (e.g. species richness and evenness).

You will be provided with information from three paleontological excavation sites where large fossil assemblages have been uncovered. Using what you know about modern analogs for three different ecoregions, hypothesize about the climate where these ancient animals existed. Support your conclusions with data.


Upon completion of this activity, students should have a better understanding of:

  1. Various ecoregions in North America and the climatic conditions associated with them.
  2. Adaptations the animals in those regions have made for survival.
  3. How changing climate has resulted in changes in mammal biodiversity.


Students will be assessed by asking them to predict, based on how the current climate is changing, how the modern mammal assemblages in their ecoregions will be changing in the next two hundred years. Students will be provided with climate change parameters to consider.


  1. Smithsonian North American Mammals website
  2. Faunmap Database