For the InstructorThese student materials complement the Changing Biosphere Instructor Materials. If you would like your students to have access to the student materials, we suggest you either point them at the Student Version which omits the framing pages with information designed for faculty (and this box). Or you can download these pages in several formats that you can include in your course website or local Learning Managment System. Learn more about using, modifying, and sharing InTeGrate teaching materials.
We're in the middle of what may be a mass extinction. There have been five major mass extinctions in the fossil record, which have resulted in the loss of over 75% of marine species relatively quickly (perhaps tens of thousands of years or less). Extinction rates in the recent past have been comparable to those during the ancient mass extinction; we have lost over 800 species in the last five centuries, and thousands more are endangered. In this module, you will investigate the causes and effects of those ancient extinctions and critically examine the evidence for them. You will move on to examine recent extinctions, and the conditions that are threatening species in the present, then make recommendations for reducing extinction rates.
Unit 1: Introduction to the Geologic Timeline & Mass Extinctions
In this unit, you will learn the basics about mass extinctions, including the one we are experiencing now, about the geologic timeline, and about fossil evidence for this mass extinction. The place to start is by doing the reading:
Study Guide: Mass Extinctions & The Biodiversity Crisis
Unit 2: Causes of Mass Extinction
To prepare for this unit, you will read about suspected causes for some of the most severe mass extinctions in Earth history. Members of each group will be reading a different article. You only need to read one article before class, so make sure you know which group you are in. During class, you will work with colleagues who have read other articles to better understand the evidence for and effects of massive impacts and flood basalts and the differences between the end-Cretaceous and end-Permian mass extinctions.
- Group A will read about flood-basalt eruptions at the Deccan Traps at the end of the Cretaceous (Acrobat (PDF) 319kB Apr3 17)
- Group B will read about flood-basalt eruptions at the Siberian Traps at the end of the Permian (Acrobat (PDF) 319kB Apr3 17)
- Group C will read about the impact at Chicxulub about the end of the Cretaceous (Acrobat (PDF) 340kB Apr3 17)
- Group D will read about possible end-Permian impacts (Acrobat (PDF) 340kB Apr3 17)
Unit 3: The Interconnected Nature of the Atmosphere, Hydrosphere, and Biosphere
In this unit, you will learn to use a systems approach to thinking about the dynamics of carbon on Earth. To prepare for this unit you will watch a short video about the tundra biome, characteristics of permafrost, and introduce its role in the global carbon cycle. There is also a one-page reading assignment, and several questions to respond to before class.
- Unit 3 Pre-class activity (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 176kB Jan13 17)
During class you will form groups to build your own model of Earth's carbon cycle using a framework common in system dynamics modeling. Then you will have a chance to confront your model with a catastrophic scenario and consider how your system would respond.
- Unit 3 In-class activity (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 23kB Jan13 17)
- Glossary for System Thinking (Microsoft Word 28kB Jan13 17)
Unit 4: Impacts of Environmental Change on Organisms: Horses
In this unit, you will explore changes in biodiversity using one group of animals, the Equidae, as a case study. You will use data to investigate the relationship between climate, biomes, and horse morphology and diversity through time. You will also connect the history of Equus (modern horses) to issues surrounding Bureau of Land Management roundups and wild horse protection in North America.
Unit 4 Study Guide: Impacts of Environmental Change on Horses
Unit 5: The Sixth Extinction
In this unit, you will review the reading from Unit 1 describing the causes and rates of mass extinctions, including the current "Sixth Extinction." After an introduction to species conservation approaches, you will also participate in a role-playing exercise in which you consider the pros and cons of various criteria for setting biodiversity conservation priorities and make a recommendation to a conservation organization. Finally, you will write a letter to potential donors about the current loss of biological diversity, societal impacts, and possible solutions.
Review: The Biodiversity Crisis – Are Humans Causing a Sixth Mass Extinction? and the associated study guide: Mass Extinctions & The Biodiversity Crisis.
Read: Conservation of Biodiversity. Scroll down and begin reading at "Why Conserve Biodiversity?"