Teaching Population Dynamics and Trophic Cascades Using Large Mammals

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This playlist can be used to teach several core concepts of population dynamics and trophic cascades through three diverse ecological examples: wolves in Isle Royale, Michigan; rinderpest and wildebeest in Tanzania; and cougars in Zion National Park, Utah. The topics covered include predator-prey dynamics, top-down population regulation, exponential and logistic population growth, carrying capacity, and trophic cascades.
 
By completing the resources in this playlist, students will be able to:

  • Investigate phenomena to make observations and claims about how predators and prey regulate each other’s populations.
  • Develop and interpret exponential and logistic population growth models using novel scenarios.
  • Interpret graphs and use evidence to make claims about top-down effects on animal populations, and about the trophic cascade resulting from the removal of a predator from an ecosystem.

This playlist can be used in general biology and environmental high school courses. Implementing this playlist should take about six to seven 50-minute class periods.

The Wolves of Isle Royale
Topic
Ecology
Resource Type
Activities

These three images of wolves hunting moose on Isle Royale serve as anchoring phenomena for students to explore population dynamics and trophic cascades.

To use this resource as part of this playlist, guide students through the “Engagement, establishing prior knowledge, and providing context” section of the “Educator Materials.”
 
Estimated Time: Half of a 50-minute class period.

Predator-Prey Relationship Dynamics
Topic
Ecology
Science Practices
Resource Type
Activities

In this Data Point activity, students interpret a graph to examine the interactions between predator and prey populations.

To use this resource as part of this playlist:

  • Use the suggestions in the “Educator Materials” to guide students through a discussion about the graph.
  • After this activity, have students revise the wolf-moose population models they created in the “Wolves of Isle Royale” activity (resource 1 in this playlist) based on what they learned about predator-prey populations.

Estimated Time: One 50-minute class period.

Serengeti Wildebeest Population Regulation
Topic
Ecology
Science Practices
Resource Type
Activities

In this Data Point activity, students interpret a graph to examine the effect of a viral disease, rinderpest, on wildebeest populations.

To use this resource as part of this playlist:

  • Have students use the Identify and Interpret strategy to analyze the graph.
  • Use the suggestions in the “Educator Materials” to guide students through a discussion about the graph.
  • Lead the class in a discussion of the question “How can a disease be similar to a predator in how it affects an animal population?”

Estimated Time: One 50-minute class period.

Population Dynamics
Topic
Ecology
Science Practices
Resource Type
Interactive Media

Using this simulation, students investigate exponential and logistic population growth models and factors that regulate population sizes.

To use this resource as part of this playlist:

  • Have students explore the Click & Learn and complete parts 1A and 2A of the “Student Worksheet” individually.
  • Have students work in groups to complete part 3A of the worksheet, which focuses on the rinderpest and wildebeest example.

Estimated Time: One to two 50-minute class periods.

Exploring Trophic Cascades
Topic
Anatomy & Physiology
Ecology
Resource Type
Interactive Media

In this Click & Learn, students explore models of species interactions to learn about indirect effects and trophic cascades.

To use this resource as part of this playlist:

  • Have students explore the introduction and the “African Savanna” case study.
  • Lead a class discussion on the model they created in the case study. Have students brainstorm other ideas on how rinderpest may have affected the Serengeti ecosystem beyond wildebeest, grass, and fire.

Estimated Time: One 50-minute class period.

Cougars and Trees in a Trophic Cascade
Topic
Ecology
Environmental Science
Science Practices
Resource Type
Activities

In this Data Point activity, students explore a new trophic cascade example by interpreting a graph to examine how the disappearance of cougars affected the trees in Zion National Park.

To use this resource as part of this playlist:

  • Have students analyze the graph and background reading in the “Student Handout.”
  • Use the suggestions in the “Educator Materials” to guide students through a discussion about the graph. 

Estimated Time: One 50-minute class period.