Conservation and Restoration in a Local Ecosystem


In this field-based activity, students are introduced to a local ecosystem. Students observe three sites within the ecosystem paying close attention to community interactions and factors that either promote or inhibit healthy ecosystem functioning. Students use their observations to assess overall health of the ecosystem and prepare recommendations for effective ecosystem management.

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Learning Goals

This activity introduces students to the challenges faced by a local ecosystem. Connecting students with local organizations that are working to conserve or restore the ecosystem being studies will provide opportunities for ongoing involvement.

This activity:

  • Engages students in civil discourse/ communications that lead to more effective decisions
  • Improves understanding of local ecological challenges
  • Advances student literacy around sustainability issues
  • Encourages self-reflection and personal development of their voice for solving societal challenges

Higher-order thinking skills developed by this activity include critical thinking and synthesis of ideas.

Context for Use

This activity has been used in a course populated by students with limited biology/ecology knowledge (first-semester biology majors and non-majors). Prior to assigning this activity, students have been introduced to several key concepts related to ecosystem functioning (biodiversity, resilience, species interactions). Students have also been introduced to systems thinking, a strategy that we have found to enhance students' ability to understand the dynamics of complex structures such as ecosystems. This activity requires approximately two hours to complete (but will ultimately depend upon the distance to, and between, selected observation sites). We conduct this activity in an ecosystem preserve that is located on our campus, but it could easily be conducted in a nearly natural area. Selecting sites on campus or at a nearly location that are highly disturbed could also be very effective.

Description and Teaching Materials

Preparation: Select a nearby ecosystem (preferably within walking distance) for students to study. Within the ecosystem, identify three observation sites that vary in structure, diversity, degree of disturbance, etc. The attached document, Conservation and Restoration in a Local Ecosystem, has placeholders for ecosystem name, travel directions, and a map. Students, working in teams of 3-5 students, visit each observation site and consider the questions provided on the attached document. The instructor should spend some time at each site, asking questions and helping students to identify key features of the site. Upon completion of the observation portion of the exercise, students will complete the reflection/recommendation questions found at the end of the attached document. If time allows, student teams can share their recommendations with their classmates and discuss rationale for varying management strategies.

Conservation and Restoration student handout (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 29kB Jul25 13)

Teaching Notes and Tips

We recommend selecting observation sites that vary with respect to species diversity, structural diversity, human impact, presence of invasive species, etc. This will provide opportunities for students to consider the various factors that affect ecosystem health. Engaging students while they are making their observations will help ensure that students identify key features at each site. If time allows, student teams can share and discuss their assessment of overall ecosystem health and management recommendations.


Instructors should engage students while they are making observations at each site. This will allow the instructor to determine whether students are making key observations and using those observations appropriately as they formulate their responses to the provided questions. Summative assessment of Reflection and Recommendation questions will facilitate assessment of students' ability to apply and synthesize information.

References and Resources