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Unit 3: Ocean Habitat and Community Ecology

Michelle Kinzel (San Diego Mesa College/Southwestern College)
Astrid Schnetzer (North Carolina State University)
Cara Thompson (Santa Monica College)

These materials have been reviewed for their alignment with the Next Generation Science Standards as detailed below. Visit InTeGrate and the NGSS to learn more.

Overview

Using whole class presentation and video, students are introduced to the functional roles that organisms play in ocean ecosystems, specifically biological interactions within coral reef habitats. Thermal stress induced by global climate change is discussed and students cooperate in small groups to analyze cause and effect relationships and loss of functional diversity in coral reef ecosystems. Through whole group discussion, students conceptualize how changes in ocean chemistry can create negative outcomes for humans who depend on living ocean resources

Science and Engineering Practices

Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions: Apply scientific ideas, principles, and/or evidence to construct, revise and/or use an explanation for real- world phenomena, examples, or events. MS-P6.4:

Cross Cutting Concepts

Systems and System Models: Systems may interact with other systems; they may have sub-systems and be a part of larger complex systems. MS-C4.1:

Stability and Change: Stability might be disturbed either by sudden events or gradual changes that accumulate over time. MS-C7.3:

Cause and effect: Cause and effect relationships can be suggested and predicted for complex natural and human designed systems by examining what is known about smaller scale mechanisms within the system. HS-C2.2:

Disciplinary Core Ideas

Interdependent Relationships in Ecosystems: Ecosystems have carrying capacities, which are limits to the numbers of organisms and populations they can support. These limits result from such factors as the availability of living and nonliving resources and from such challenges such as predation, competition, and disease. Organisms would have the capacity to produce populations of great size were it not for the fact that environments and resources are finite. This fundamental tension affects the abundance (number of individuals) of species in any given ecosystem. HS-LS2.A1:

Ecosystem Dynamics, Functioning, and Resilience: A complex set of interactions within an ecosystem can keep its numbers and types of organisms relatively constant over long periods of time under stable conditions. If a modest biological or physical disturbance to an ecosystem occurs, it may return to its more or less original status (i.e., the ecosystem is resilient), as opposed to becoming a very different ecosystem. Extreme fluctuations in conditions or the size of any population, however, can challenge the functioning of ecosystems in terms of resources and habitat availability. HS-LS2.C1:

Cycles of Matter and Energy Transfer in Ecosystems: Plants or algae form the lowest level of the food web. At each link upward in a food web, only a small fraction of the matter consumed at the lower level is transferred upward, to produce growth and release energy in cellular respiration at the higher level. Given this inefficiency, there are generally fewer organisms at higher levels of a food web. Some matter reacts to release energy for life functions, some matter is stored in newly made structures, and much is discarded. The chemical elements that make up the molecules of organisms pass through food webs and into and out of the atmosphere and soil, and they are combined and recombined in different ways. At each link in an ecosystem, matter and energy are conserved. HS-LS2.B2:

Biodiversity and Humans: Biodiversity is increased by the formation of new species (speciation) and decreased by the loss of species (extinction). HS-LS4.D2:

Performance Expectations

Ecosystems: Interactions, Energy, and Dynamics: Evaluate the claims, evidence, and reasoning that the complex interactions in ecosystems maintain relatively consistent numbers and types of organisms in stable conditions, but changing conditions may result in a new ecosystem. HS-LS2-6:

This material was developed and reviewed through the InTeGrate curricular materials development process. This rigorous, structured process includes:

  • team-based development to ensure materials are appropriate across multiple educational settings.
  • multiple iterative reviews and feedback cycles through the course of material development with input to the authoring team from both project editors and an external assessment team.
  • real in-class testing of materials in at least 3 institutions with external review of student assessment data.
  • multiple reviews to ensure the materials meet the InTeGrate materials rubric which codifies best practices in curricular development, student assessment and pedagogic techniques.
  • review by external experts for accuracy of the science content.

This activity was selected for the On the Cutting Edge Reviewed Teaching Collection

This activity has received positive reviews in a peer review process involving five review categories. The five categories included in the process are

  • Scientific Accuracy
  • Alignment of Learning Goals, Activities, and Assessments
  • Pedagogic Effectiveness
  • Robustness (usability and dependability of all components)
  • Completeness of the ActivitySheet web page

For more information about the peer review process itself, please see http://serc.carleton.edu/NAGTWorkshops/review.html.


This page first made public: Nov 22, 2016

Summary

Students will be able to identify the functional roles that organisms play in ocean ecosystems. How do human-induced changes in ocean conditions affect biodiversity, and thereby the health and resilience of a coral reef? Students explore and discuss the direct and indirect impacts that ocean acidification can have on species, food web dynamics, ecosystem function, and commercial resources. At the end of this unit the students should be able to articulate how changes in ocean chemistry can create negative outcomes for humans who depend on living ocean resources.

Learning Goals

By the end of the unit, students will be able to:
  1. Describe the ecological roles that organisms play within complex ecosystems.
  2. Give examples of how diversity links with ecosystem resilience in coral reefs.
  3. Examine how global climate change (i.e. increased ocean temperature and ocean acidification) jeopardizes the sustainability of coral reefs worldwide.
  4. Explain how changes in diversity and food web regime shifts affect people who depend on sustainable ocean resources.

This unit introduces students to the complex concepts involved in ecosystem diversity and function. They will discuss the challenges involved in scientific research to study the impact that global change has on biological communities, and they should be able to draw connections between global climate change and negative outcomes for coastal communities.

Context for Use

This unit can be used as a stand-alone unit or as part of the Ocean Sustainability Module. It can be used in an introductory marine or environmental science course. This unit is designed to be used in a classroom of 10–100 students over the course of one 50-minute class period. Work combines in-class activities and homework.

Description and Teaching Materials

Classwork

Lecture (10 min)

Instructor starts with the first part of the Unit 3 lecture presentation (PowerPoint 4.8MB Oct26 16) (slides 1-8) that explains how corals are foundation species that create entire ecosystems, living space that functions as nursery and refuge for numerous fish and invertebrate species. These systems are the most species-rich habitats in the oceans, supporting ~25% of all marine species while taking up less than 1% of the ocean floor.

Notes on Lecture

Slide 1: Learning goals

Slides 2 through 7: The ecological roles (trophic roles) that members within a reef community play are introduced with emphasis on corals as foundation species. The importance of the relationship between corals and their endosymbiotic algae (zooxanthellae) is explained, and what happens when this relationship is disturbed (coral bleaching). The preferred living conditions for corals are discussed, which will allow students to look at changes in these conditions due to climate change in the second part of the lecture.

Examples are presented where changes in diversity affect reef community structure and adversely impact ecosystem function and resilience. A specific scenario will be described for ecosystem regime shifts due to "bottom-up" or resource-dependent change (i.e. nutrient pollution and algal overgrowth) and one scenario of regime shift due to "top-down" or predator-dependent factors (i.e. overfishing). Referring to the trophic pyramid diagram, these scenarios give an example of how students will be able to solve Activity 1.

Slide 8: Introduction of Activity 1 — talk through the provided (filled-in) example for guidance.

Activity 3.1 (10 min)

Students cooperate in small groups (~5 students) to fill in the worksheet for Activity 3.1. They are encouraged to use information provided during the first part of the lecture and the trophic pyramid diagram to complete the chart. They are asked to link specific organisms to their ecological roles (trophic modes) and trophic levels and predict the overall impact on reef resilience by choosing from the provided scenarios. By using their newly acquired knowledge and the lecture examples, they can decipher trophic connections to match potential impacts on reefs due to loss in functional diversity. - Activity 1_Handout (Acrobat (PDF) 34kB Oct22 16)

Notes on the activity: The instructor can adjust the number of blanks that students fill in for this activity, based on the existing knowledge of the students (editable version of Activity 1 spreadsheet (Excel 2007 (.xlsx) 14kB Oct26 16)). The current example does give some guidance for varying columns, but this can be adjusted as needed. The additional trophic pyramid diagram that depicts trophic levels on a coral reef with examples is a supporting tool for this activity.

Lecture continued (15 min)

The instructor continues the lecture (slides 9–12) to discuss the global status of reefs and how sustaining healthy marine ecosystems is a multi-dimensional challenge. It is discussed how predictions link future thermal stress to increasing coral bleaching, further jeopardizing coral reef survival. At this time, students are encouraged to consider why researching the impact of ocean temperature change together with ocean acidification on coral reef health is a formidable science challenge. Use the questions on slide 12 and gather students' thoughts on the topic in preparation for Activity 2 and the movie.

Activity 3.2 (15 min)

Provide the class with a printed question sheet for Activity 3.2: Activity 3.2 Handout (Acrobat (PDF) 111kB Oct28 16) / Activity 3.2 Handout (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 21kB Nov6 16). Alert them to the fact that the answers will not be due as homework until next class but that they are strongly encouraged to take notes during the showing of the video clip "Sea Change: The Pacific's Perilous Turn" (~9 min). The video will have several examples of how ocean acidification affects ecosystems and adversely impacts single marine organisms, and subsequently changes diversity and food webs linked to humans who depend on sustainable ocean resources. Encourage class discussion after the video and give some pointers. Instead of providing students with the answers, encourage them to provide answers to each other. Emphasize that the video and associated article are available to them, and that they can stop or replay parts of the video to properly research answers for the homework. The students are provided with the word version for Activity 3.2, to familiarize themselves with the questions, take notes and fill in information. The students are asked to complete their homework and submit by next class.

Teaching Notes and Tips

For students not familiar with ecological terms such as ecosystem function, trophic levels, and food webs, more time should be spent explaining these terms in the first section of the PowerPoint and in context with Activity 1. Especially if the lesson is longer than 50 minutes, there will be more time to reiterate these basic terms. Alternatively, the time in a longer lesson can be used to finish Activity 2 in the classroom. However, the themes visited in that short documentary are rather complex and will be better assimilated if students are required to revisit the topics outside the classroom. The need for them to formulate and answer the homework questions will help with comprehension.

Activity 2 (which is completed as homework) could include an option for extra credit where the students are asked to research and provide an additional example for adverse impacts of ocean acidification on organisms and/or ecosystems not mentioned in class or in the documentary.

Assessment

Lecture and Activity 1: Students have to identify the ecological roles (trophic roles) that organisms play within a reef community (Learning Goal 1) and have to link negative impacts on specific members (i.e. loss of functional diversity) to reef ecosystem function and resilience (Learning Goal 2).

Lecture and Activity 2: Students discuss predictions of how thermal stress and ocean acidification will jeopardize coral reef survival (Learning Goal 3) and use the provided news segment in Activity 2 to identify specific examples where commercially important species, and people who depend on them, are affected (Learning Goal 4).

  • Activity 1 Key:
    AnswerKey_Unit 3 Activity 1


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  • Activity 2 Key:
    AnswerKey_Unit 3 Activity 2


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These materials are part of a collection of classroom-tested modules and courses developed by InTeGrate. The materials engage students in understanding the earth system as it intertwines with key societal issues. The collection is freely available and ready to be adapted by undergraduate educators across a range of courses including: general education or majors courses in Earth-focused disciplines such as geoscience or environmental science, social science, engineering, and other sciences, as well as courses for interdisciplinary programs.
Explore the Collection »