Modeling Ecosystem Effects of Termite Mound Patterns
This activity guides the analysis of a published scientific figure from a study on how termite mounds can enhance an ecosystem’s resilience to drought.
Termites help plants grow by enriching the soil with nutrients and digging tunnels that improve water flow to roots. As a result, ecosystems with termite mounds may be more resistant to losing vegetation, especially during droughts. In this study, scientists mathematically modeled ecosystems with and without termite mounds. The figure shows the varying amounts of vegetation with increasing or decreasing rainfall, along with sudden changes in vegetation that occur at particular thresholds of rainfall.
The “Educator Materials” document includes a captioned figure, background information, graph interpretation, and discussion questions. The “Student Handout” includes a captioned figure and background information.
Student Learning Targets
- Analyze and interpret data from a scientific figure.
- Describe how certain species can increase the resilience (robustness) of an ecosystem.
- Explain how an ecosystem could have different states under the same condition, depending on the direction of past changes (hysteresis).
alternative stable state, biomass, desertification, ecological resilience, grassland, hysteresis, logarithmic scale, phase diagram, savanna, scatter plot
Bonachela, Juan A., Robert M. Pringle, Efrat Sheffer, Tyler C. Coverdale, Jennifer A. Guyton, Kelly K. Caylor, Simon A. Levin, and Corina E. Tarnita. “Termite mounds can increase the robustness of dryland ecosystems to climatic change.” Science 347, 6222 (2015): 651–655. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1261487.
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Accessibility Level (WCAG compliance)
HS-LS2-1, HS-LS2-6; SEP2, SEP4, SEP5
AP Biology (2019)
SYI-3.F, SYI-2.C; SP1, SP4
IB Biology (2016)
AP Environmental Science (2020)
Learning Objectives & Practices: ERT-2.A, SP5
IB Environmental Systems and Societies (2017)
Common Core (2010)
Math.S-ID.3, Math.S-IC.1; MP2, MP5
Vision and Change (2009)
CC5; DP2, DP3