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Long Term Ecological Resources

This page authored by Scott Cooper, UW-La Crosse, based on an original activity by Roger Haro, UW-La Crosse.
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This material was originally developed through Merlot
as part of its collaboration with the SERC Pedagogic Service.


In this out of class assignment, students work in groups to analyze ecological data and generate an ecological rule. The data is from the Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) network which can be accessed through MERLOT. LTER contains annual net primary productivity (ANPP), precipitation and temperature data for 26 different biomes. Students are assigned two biomes to study and generate a rule, such as "increasing precipitation leads to an increase in ANPP". They then examine data from two other sites and see if their rule applies to these biomes as well. The final results are submitted as a powerpoint slide, and several are shown in class.

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Learning Goals

  • Students will analyze data, make graphs and form an ecological rule to explain their results.
  • Students will apply their ecological rule to two additional sites to see if it applies.
  • Students should learn that in ecology, we cannot always set up controlled experiments, but instead must look for trends and correlations, and then try to extrapolate these trends to explain other data.

Context for Use

This assignment is used in a large lecture course (100+ freshmen biology majors). Students are given a week to complete the assignment and work in groups of 4. In lecture we discuss biomes, the role of temperature and precipitation in the location of biomes, and what ANPP represents. This could easily be fit into a lab, or smaller course.

Teaching Materials

The teaching materials are linked below.

  1. A powerpoint presentation with instructions. - Instructions for students (PowerPoint 433kB Mar22 06)
  2. An Excel file with the raw data for each site. - LTER dataset (Excel 49kB Mar22 06)
  3. A rubric for grading the assignments. - Grading rubric (Microsoft Word 19kB Mar22 06)
  4. Article by Knapp (2004) for background on LTER - Article by Knapp (Acrobat (PDF) 3MB Mar22 06)

Ecology Quiz (Microsoft Word 68kB Mar22 06)

Teaching Notes and Tips

The instructions are on the powerpoint slide above.

Students are assigned two sites to compare temp and precip. vs. ANPP. This is in a table on the last page, I had 35 groups of 4, so I just assigned each group a number and they could find the two sites they were to compare. They should graph these and make an ecological rule.

They then graph two additional sites of their choosing and see if the ecological rule applies.


See ecology quiz above for summative assessment questions and the ecology rubric for grading the assignment.

References and Resources

MERLOT description of the "LTER Network" resource that is used in this activity.


Biology:Ecology, Environmental Science:Ecosystems

Resource Type

Activities, Datasets and Tools:Datasets with Teaching Activities

Special Interest

Data, models, or simulations:Data

Grade Level

College Lower (13-14):Introductory Level

Earth System Topics

Biosphere, Human Dimensions, Biosphere:Ecology


Teach the Earth:Teaching Environments:Intro Geoscience, Teach the Earth:Course Topics:Environmental Science