Teaching Activities Using the Neotoma Database


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Module 7: Mammal Responses to Climate Change in the Past and the Future with Neotoma Explorer
Russell Graham, Pennsylvania State University-Main Campus
Animal distributions are frequently controlled by climate extremes, especially seasonal ones. Therefore, if the climate changes from cold to warm (or vice versa) then using modern mammal distributions and modern climate conditions it is possible to make predictions about how the mammal will respond to the climate change -- whether it is past or future. In this module students use the Neotoma Paleoecological Database to test predictions, or establish hypotheses, about how certain species of mammals have responded to climate change in the past and how they might do so on the future. Part of the Neotoma Education Modules for Biotic Response to Climate Change.

Module 6: Modern (Living) Animals – What Do the Habitat Preferences and Geographic Distribution of Modern Animals Tell Us about Why Animals Live Where They Do?
James S. Oliver III and Russell W. Graham, The Pennsylvania State University
Paleoecologists reconstruct past climates and ecosystems by comparing the habits and habitats preferred by living animals or ones closely related to those found as fossils. In this module, students take the first step in this process by examining modern species distributions to make observations about species habitat preferences. Given a list of species, students use the Neotoma Explorer to obtain species distribution maps and compare them to temperature and precipitation maps. A series of questions guide them through their comparison and analysis of the maps. Part of the Neotoma Education Modules for Biotic Response to Climate Change.

Module 5: Some Modern Biotic Responses to Climate Change
Russell Graham, Pennsylvania State University-Main Campus
In this module, students explore biotic responses to changing climate. The module steps through different styles of response (i.e. stasis, adaptation, extinction) and provides examples of each from modern biota. Students are given a set of exercises where they create a hypothesis for future mammal distribution changes. Part of the Neotoma Education Modules for Biotic Response to Climate Change.

Module 4: Global Records of Climate Change - The Deep Sea and Ice Cores
Russell Graham, Pennsylvania State University-Main Campus
In this module, students explore and analyze records of past climate. In the first part of the module, students are given background information about long-term records of Earth's climate: deep sea sediment cores and ice cores. Students are also introduced to Oxygen isotopes and how they are used as records of past climate. Students complete a set of exercises that assess their understanding of the material and ask them to analyze data about the Laurentide Ice Sheet using the Neotoma Explorer. In the second part of the module, students examine Antarctic ice core data and apply their knowledge from the beginning of the module. Part of the Neotoma Education Modules for Biotic Response to Climate Change.

Relating Late-Quaternary Plant and Animal Distributions to Past and Future Climate
Samantha Kaplan, University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point
A guided activity for students to explore the relationship between climate and plant and animal distributions in the past, present, and future. Students use the Neotoma Paleoecology Database, USDA Climate Change Tree Atlas, USGS Atlas of Relations Between Climatic Parameters and Distributions of Important Trees and Shrubs in North America (Professional Paper 1650 A/B), and climate model output.

Species distributions in response to environmental gradients in the Upper Midwest of the United States - an example using the Neotoma database
Alison Smith, Kent State University-Main Campus
Pollen and ostracode records are used here to examine the migration of a major ecotone (transition zone between two biomes) in the Northern Midwest known as the prairie-forest border. Using the Neotoma database, we can explore the modern geographic distribution of prairie and forest vegetation (represented by pollen data) and of saline and freshwater lakes (represented by ostracodes, microscopic aquatic crustaceans) and then track the shifting boundary of the prairie forest border over the most recent 12,000 years using a lake sediment core.

Module 2: Ecology and Paleoecology Principles
Russell Graham, Pennsylvania State University-Main Campus
In this two part activity, students are introduced to the principals of ecology and paleoecology and compare modern ecological relationships with prehistoric ones. In part one, students read about ecological principles such as ecological niches and competitive exclusion, and how these principles can be applied to modern and past organisms. Students answer a series of questions that ask them to apply their knowledge of ecological principles. In the second part, students are introduced to non-analogue biotas and complete a set of exercises using the Neotoma Explorer. Part of the Neotoma Education Modules for Biotic Response to Climate Change.

Module 1: An Ecology/Climate Scenario
Russell Graham, Pennsylvania State University-Main Campus
In this module, participants read a short scenario and answer a series of questions to emulate the scientific process of making observations and hypotheses. Entitled "Gotta find a better place to fish...", the scenario details observations of biological, environmental, and ecological changes to a mountain stream over time. Participants answer questions that ask them to hypothesize why some of these changes might be occurring and how they are related. Part of the Neotoma Education Modules for Biotic Response to Climate Change.

Lab Exercise: Exploring the Neotoma Paleoecology Database
John (Jack) Williams, University of Wisconsin-Madison
This lab introduces students and other interested users to the Neotoma Paleoecology Database and Neotoma Explorer. Neotoma DB is a public-access and community-supported repository of paleoecological data, mostly from the late Quaternary. These data are widely used by scientists to study species responses to past climate change.

Beetles, Mammals, and Plants: Is Climate Driving Range Shifts Since the Last Glacial Maximum
Christian George, High Point University
In this exercise, students will use the Neotoma database and ArcGIS Online to create a distribution map of modern collection localities of beetle taxa associated with an assemblage of fossil beetles from the Conklin Quarry site in eastern Iowa. a data rich exercise to help students discover how organisms move in response to climate change

Advanced exploration of the ecological consequences of trophic downgrading in mixed/short grass prairies in North America
Dennis Ruez, University of Illinois at Springfield
North American ecosystems have fundamentally changed over the late Pleistocene and Holocene; from a system dominated by mammoths, to bison, to domestic livestock. Given the very different body size and herd formation of these 'ecosystem engineers', it is likely that animals influence soil structure, water tables, vegetation and other animals in the ecosystems. What has been the ecological influence of the continued 'downsizing' of the largest animals in the ecosystem?

What are the ecological consequences of trophic downgrading in mixed/short grass prairies in North America?
Dennis Ruez, University of Illinois at Springfield
North American ecosystems have fundamentally changed over the late Pleistocene and Holocene; from a system dominated by mammoths, to bison, to domestic livestock. Given the very different body size and herd formation of these 'ecosystem engineers', it is likely that animals influence soil structure, water tables, vegetation and other animals in the ecosystems. What has been the ecological influence of the continued 'downsizing' of the largest animals in the ecosystem?

Climate Change and Mammal Dispersal
Suzanne Pilaar Birch, University of Georgia
Students will learn how species shift along environmental gradients (temperature, precipitation, and vegetation) in response to climate change over the last 20,000 years, from the time of the Last Glacial Maximum through deglaciation and the Holocene. The activity involves making maps of species distribution using the Neotoma database. Students will develop skills in data analysis and interpretation over a two-to-four class arc.

Module 3: Understanding Climate Patterns in North America
Russell Graham, Pennsylvania State University-Main Campus
Understanding the broad patterns of global climate helps in understanding more specific North American climate patterns. Understanding these climate patterns is necessary to understand the modern and past distributions of plants and animals in North America. In this activity, students are introduced to concepts of weather and climate (particularly North American temperature and precipitation patterns). Students complete a series of exercises where they analyze temperature and precipitation maps as well as historical data to learn about geographic and temporal changes in weather and climate. Part of the Neotoma Education Modules for Biotic Response to Climate Change.

California Climate and Vegetation Change Classroom Task
Katherine Glover, University of Maine
This NGSS-aligned classroom task focuses on California's Mediterranean climate, and shifts in its floral diversity during the Holocene that reflect past climate change. Students first examine modern climate data from four disparate areas in the state and create climatographs. Using the Neotoma Paleoecology Database, students then look at past records in each of these four regions to assess pollen data as a proxy for climate change over time, and completeness of the record. Plant taxa in the fossil record are compared to modern plant tolerances and distribution available at CalFlora, and students then determine which plants are most sensitive to change by region, and preserve well as fossil pollen.