MnSTEP Teaching Activity Collection > MnSTEP Activities > An Introduction to and Investigation on Keystone Species

An Introduction to and Investigation on Keystone Species

Sarah De La Forest
Howard Lake Waverly Winsted School
Howard Lake, MN
Based on information from the Audubon Center in Sandstone, MN
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In this project, students will learn about keystone species to see how they have influenced their ecosystems. They will be introduced to them in class, then be given time to research specific keystone species of their choosing. They will then organize their information into some sort of presentation, and present to the class. They will also analyze how you can consider humans to be keystone species in a one page reflection to be turned in with their presentation.

Learning Goals

The goal of this activity is for students to 1) understand what a keystone species is and 2) analyze how humans affect their environment. They will also be learning more about research and presentation of ideas and information.

Concepts that they will understand by the end of the project are: how ecosystems support organisms and how we can prevent some ecosystem damage through choices we make.

Vocabulary Words to Know:
Keystone Species
Invasive Species

Context for Use

Level: Middle-High School level students
Class size: 25-30 Students
Type: Project (5-8 school days)
Materials Necessary: computer lab, research materials, possibly power point projector
Concepts previously mastered: Students need to understand what species are and how species affect one another. They need to understand concepts of predator and prey. They need to understand evolution and that ecosystems can change over time.

Subject: Biology:Ecology
Resource Type: Activities:Classroom Activity, Lab Activity
Grade Level: Middle (6-8), High School (9-12)

Description and Teaching Materials

Day One: Students will learn about ecosystems, keystone species, invasive species and resources. We will spend a good amount of time investigating what an ecosystem is and examples of many different types of ecosystems. We will discuss what a keystone species is and examples of keystone species.

Day Two: Day two will be spent introducing the project to students. I would let them work in partners, but each partner has to do their own research notes page. I also think that the students must turn in a paper that explains what each partner is doing if they are going to divide the project up. They may chose to do a power point, a poster presentation or a paper. If they can come up with different ways to present their information, they may check them with me, then proceed to divide up their project. They also need to pick a species that they would like to research. Some examples are beaver, elephants, sea otter, freshwater bass, prairie dogs, and star fish. I think it would be a good idea to make packets of information up that have to do with what ecosystem the animal comes from and other information about the animal for them to start reading through.

Day Three: Today is a research day. Students will get a sheet of paper to fill out using their packets and websites that ask directed questions, i.e. what are the behaviors of this animal? What was this place like before this animal moved in? How has it changed? How would it change if this animal moved on?

Day Four: Research Day. Students will continue to work on their research. Research sheets must be turned in with works cited to the teacher today. As soon as these are checked, they may move on to organizing their information to be presented to the class.

Day Five: Students will be able to start (or continue) organizing information. This must be finished by the next week (Shoot for having this day on a Friday).

Day Six: Presentations.

Day Seven: Presentations.

Teaching Notes and Tips


At the end of the project, individually assess students with a three paragraph essay that poses the question: It has been said that humans are keystone species. Describe three reasons why you agree or disagree with this assessment. Be sure to support your answer with three to five supporting details.

I will also assess their presentation and project in their partner groups.


MN Academic Standards:
7.IV.C, 1, 3, 4
1. The student will provide examples of the potentially irreversible effects of human activity on ecosystems.
3. The student will define an ecosystem as all populations living together and the physical factors with which they interact.
4. The student will explain the factors that affect the number and types of organisms an ecosystem can support, including available resources, abiotic and biotic factors and disease.

References and Resources