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In this alternation of commutual activities, acceptance participate in simulations that authenticate three ecological concepts: accustomed capacity, aliment webs, and the role of top predators.


Students will:


Science, Mathematics


carnivore, accustomed capacity, aliment chain, aliment web, herbivore, attached factor, omnivore, phytoplankton, predator, prey, watershed, zooplankton


3 sessions (one affair per part)



This action supports the afterward National Academy of Sciences Science Education Standards (Grades 5-8):


The alteration of aliment action from one breed to the abutting links the apparatus of every ecosystem. This is alleged the aliment alternation or, added accurately, the aliment web, back the access are circuitous and varied. Producers, or plants and some kinds of bacilli that catechumen the sun’s action to food, anatomy the aboriginal akin of the aliment web. They accomplish the aliment that supports the added breed in the web. Consumers charge eat added active things to access aliment energy. There are three kinds of consumers: those that eat plants are alleged herbivores (Latin for “grass-eating”), those that alone eat added animals are alleged carnivores (Latin for “meat-eating”), and those that eat both plants and animals are alleged omnivores (Latin for “all-eating”).

A predator is a carnivore and usually refers to animals that bolt and annihilate their food. The animals they eat are alleged prey. A accustomed beastly ability be a predator of one breed and the casualty of another.

At anniversary date of the transfer, aliment action is acclimated for abounding altered things. Some is acclimated for growth; some is stored as fat or oil for after use as food. Some is acclimated for reproduction. Some goes undigested and is absent in carrion or the bodies of asleep organisms. Abundant of the aliment that an beastly eats is burst bottomward in a action alleged respiration which takes abode central anatomy cells.

Human activities may affect aliment webs in abounding ways. Pollution and abode abolition annual accessible changes that can be accessible to see. However, added attenuate changes may aftereffect from all-encompassing agriculture or abatement of specific levels of the aliment web. Back some angle are selectively removed, it may accept cogent appulse on added animals and on the plants in a watershed. Actual accurate planning is all-important to be able to either abolish or add animals to a arrangement after advancing the all-embracing action of the absolute system.


This exercise works best in an accessible space. Plan the breadth for the activity. If you are planning to conduct the action outside, accomplish abiding you accept an alternating armpit in case of rain.

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Part I: Accustomed Capacity—The accord amid aliment availability and the cardinal of herbivores an breadth can support.

1. Review the agreement zooplankton and phytoplankton. Zooplankton includes herbivores that augment on the tiny phytoplankton (plants) that alluvion through the apparent baptize in an amphibian environment. What happens back herbivores accept to attempt for food? Accept acceptance adumbrate what ability appear if the herbivores cannot get abundant to eat. (Answer: They ability abjure and die or may not be able to reproduce.)

2. In this exercise, the arena acreage is a “pond” that produces a bound cardinal of phytoplankton and has alone a few zooplankton. The tokens (beans or poker chips) represent phytoplankton. The aliment accumulation stays the aforementioned from one bearing to the next.

3. Annular 1: Designate two-thirds of the chic to act as zooplankton. The blow of the chic is aloof for the abutting generation. Accord anniversary zooplankton a artificial bag to aggregate phytoplankton.

4. Scatter 10 aliment items (tokens) per zooplankton. Tell acceptance that they are to try to eat (collect) as abundant as they can after advancing on addition zooplankton’s aliment supply. Begin the aliment chase and let acceptance aces up all the food. It will be over appealing fast.

5. Accept anybody sit down. Did they all get the aforementioned bulk of food? (Answer: No, some individuals are added able searchers than others.) Almanac the after-effects on the instructor’s Abstracts Breadth for Allotment 1 , application this adviser to the outcomes:

Note that some of the zooplankton did not get abundant phytoplankton to carbon while others did. Those that got added aliment leave added offspring. Some could not survive with the bound bulk of phytoplankton.

6. Annular 2: After breeding in the aboriginal round, all the parents die, abrogation abaft the cardinal of baby adumbrated on the abstracts sheet. Change the cardinal of players to bout the cardinal of baby and echo the game. Recruit from the assets and acquiesce substitutions for annoyed zooplankton. Scatter the aforementioned cardinal of aliment items as acclimated in the aboriginal annular behindhand of whether the cardinal of players went up or down. (Assume the aforementioned cardinal of phytoplankton will be produced.) The bulk of aliment is limited.

7. Almanac the after-effects for Annular 2 on the abstracts sheet. Continue to echo the bold for four or bristles rounds, alteration the cardinal of zooplankton and recording the after-effects anniversary time. You should acquisition that as continued as the aliment accumulation charcoal the same, about the aforementioned cardinal of animals is produced in anniversary generation.

8. Return to classroom and column the simulation after-effects on the lath or administer copies of the completed abstracts sheet. Altercate what happened during the simulation and the after-effects of the worksheet. Consider the afterward questions:

a. Did all the zooplankton get abundant to eat? (Answer: No. Even admitting there were aliment items abundant for anybody to survive, some were bigger at aggressive for aliment than others.)

b. What happened to those that got added food? (Answer: They acclimated their added aliment to reproduce. The best competitors had the best offspring.)

c. Did anyone acquisition a accurate ambush to advice them attempt added auspiciously for food? If this ambush or adjustment was one that was inherited, would their baby additionally be bigger at award food? Would added animals in the abutting bearing be bigger at communicable food? (Answer: Yes. Those that got the best aliment larboard the best offspring. At atomic some are acceptable to accede the food-finding adaptation.)

9. Review and altercate the results. Note that animals attempt for food. Those that do not get abundant to eat die or are bent by predators because they are anemic or diseased. Those that attempt best auspiciously leave added offspring. If the absolute to the cardinal of herbivores in an breadth is the aliment accumulation and that aliment accumulation charcoal about constant, the cardinal of herbivores charcoal added or beneath the aforementioned from one changeable aeon to the next. This boilerplate cardinal of animals is the accustomed accommodation for that habitat.

10. To reinforce the estimation of the abstracts and convenance algebraic and graphing skills, administer the Amphibian Access Worksheet and ask acceptance to complete the questions. (Optional)

Part II: Predator-Prey—The agriculture relationships amid animals that alive in an ecosystem.

1. In this allotment of the activity, the chic is action to represent the animals in a pond ecosystem. Accept acceptance name some animals that ability alive in a pond. Possible answers accommodate ample and baby fish, frogs, crayfish, tiny zooplankton, insects, beavers, and raccoons. You ability appetite to accept pictures of pond animals on duke to appearance the class. Explain that this simulation is action to use groups of animals based on predator-prey relationships.

2. In the pond, breadth does the aliment appear from? (Answer: From plants and algae that use the sun’s ablaze to photosynthesize. Some of these bacilli are tiny, free-floating phytoplankton while others are abiding blooming plants that abound beneath the baptize or forth the bend of the pond.) Write the words phytoplankton and blooming plants at the basal of the board. Introduce the chat producers for those breed that accomplish their own food.

3. Who ability eat these plants and algae? The tiny animals alleged zooplankton eat phytoplankton as the acceptance abstruse in the antecedent action section. Abounding insects, crayfish, and beavers are amid the pond animals that augment on plants. Write insects, crayfish, beavers, and zooplankton aloft the plants on the lath and draw an arrow up to them. Explain you are cartoon a diagram of the aisle aliment takes in the pond. Animals that eat plants and algae are alleged herbivores.

4. Who eats the herbivores? (Answer: Baby fish, frogs, and some bigger fish) Add them to the abutting akin forth with an arrow. Animals that eat added animals are alleged carnivores. The animals that are eaten are alleged prey.

5. Finally, who eats the carnivores? (Answer: The big angle and the raccoon) These are the top carnivores. They do not aloof eat the akin beneath them; they additionally eat animals from the lower levels. Add the top carnivores to the diagram and accomplish abiding the acceptance see the aliment web or aliment alternation basic as you draw the curve amid the levels.

6. Move to the action location. Assign one-third of the chic to be zooplankton, crayfish and insects. Accord them the aforementioned black band of bolt to abrasion and a artificial bag or cup. They are all herbivores.

7. Unlike in Allotment 1, in this simulation aliment is not a attached factor. Thus, there are added plants accessible than the herbivores can eat. Scatter 20 aliment tokens (poker chips or ample white beans) for anniversary herbivore (that is, 20 times one-third the cardinal of students). The tokens represent plants in the pond. The herbivores charge get their aliment by acrimonious up the tokens. To survive and reproduce, they charge get 10 tokens afore the end of the game. If they do not get 10 pieces, they die of starvation.

8. Accord addition one-third of the chic a additional blush armband and a artificial bag or cup. They are the carnivores, the frogs and baby fish. To eat, they charge tag an herbivore. Tagged herbivores accord their aliment accoutrements to the carnivores and sit down, as they accept been “eaten” by the predator and are out of the game. The carnivores charge aggregate 20 pieces of aliment from the herbivore aliment accoutrements to survive and carbon at the end of the game. They charge stop bistro (tagging herbivores) back they accept 20 pieces. If they do not get 20 pieces, they die of starvation.

9. The actual acceptance are the top carnivores. They get a third blush armband and a artificial bag or cup. They augment by tagging either the herbivores or the carnivores, who accord up their accoutrements and sit bottomward back tagged. The top carnivores crave 40 pieces of aliment to survive and carbon at the end of the game. They charge stop bistro back they canyon 40 aliment items.

10. Caution the acceptance about disorderly behavior and active into anniversary other. Accord the acceptance bristles annual to acquisition aliment afresh stop the game. Almanac the after-effects on the Abstracts Sheet, Allotment 2 .

11. Briefly altercate what happened:

a. What was the annual of afterlife in best cases for the herbivores? For the carnivores?

b. Were the accommodation of herbivores and carnivores the aforementioned at the end as at the alpha (indicating the ecosystem has its assorted agriculture levels intact)?

c. Do the acceptance anticipate this formed like a absolute pond ecosystem? Why or why not? How ability the accommodation in a absolute ecosystem alter from the game?

(Note: The accommodation in the aboriginal bold (Part I) were carefully wrong. They do not represent a alive arrangement and were called absolutely because they do not work. The acceptance should be able to see the problem. The top carnivores are action to eat all their prey. With no herbivores left, the top carnivores will abjure to death. If all the herbivores are eaten, they will not leave any offspring, and the blow of the levels will be afflicted in the future. The additional bold should accommodate advice to advance inferences about added adapted numbers at altered levels.)

12. Change the cardinal of acceptance in anniversary level. Assign one-half of the chic associates to be herbivores, four or bristles acceptance to be top carnivores and actual acceptance to be carnivores. Scatter 20 aliment tokens for anniversary herbivore. Redistribute the black armbands and echo the bold for bristles minutes. Almanac the after-effects on the abstracts sheet.

Alternatively, you can acquiesce acceptance to accomplish one change, added than alteration the bulk of phytoplankton, which should abide connected at 20 pieces per herbivore. You can accord them some possibilities, such as:

a. alteration the cardinal of herbivores

b. alteration the cardinal of top carnivores

c. giving herbivores a safe ambush breadth they can adumbrate amid active out to accumulate aliment tokens (keeping in apperception that they charge accumulate 10 pieces of aliment to abstain starvation), or

d. abacus 30-second safe times back the top carnivores blow and stop hunting.

Students should baddest one change at a time so after-effects from anniversary annular can be attributed to a specific variable. Run assorted rounds, alteration one capricious at a time and allegory the results. The ultimate ambition is to accept some individuals from anniversary akin actual at the end of the simulation so that all levels can reproduce.

13. Return to the classroom. Column the after-effects from the abstracts breadth on the lath or administer copies of the completed abstracts sheet. Compare the circuit of comedy and discuss. In adjustment for the aliment web to be realistic, the acceptance charge accept some individuals from anniversary akin actual at the end of the simulation. These animals will be the ones that reproduce, creating the abutting generation. Ecosystems commonly abutment actual few top predators (perhaps one), a few carnivores and abounding herbivores. This exercise illustrates that there are beneath animals in anniversary afterwards akin of the aliment web.

Part III: Beastly Impact—Human activities that change the agriculture relationships, and appropriately the ecological anatomy of a aliment web.

1. Allotment 3 of this action combines the furnishings of antagonism and predation from the above-mentioned two sections and explores the appulse bodies can accept on the apparatus of an ecosystem aliment web. Ask acceptance to name some means bodies ability affect the animals in the pond aliment web. (Answer: Pollution, abode destruction, abatement of careful levels of the aliment web) Some of the impacts are obvious; it is accessible to accept the after-effects of bushing a pond or marsh in adjustment to body a arcade centermost or add a acreage to a farm. Added attenuate changes may aftereffect from removing too abounding angle (or added species) from a abode and altering the anatomy of the absolute ecosystem.

2. Ask acceptance to analyze the aliment web of the pond archetypal from the antecedent simulation. Draw the aliment web on the lath as acceptance name the plants and animals. Which akin of the aliment web is the best acceptable to be afflicted by humans? Back bodies like to bolt big angle rather than tiny minnows, big angle are the acceptable candidates for beastly removal. Acceptance accept accomplished an beastly (like a raccoon) actuality dead by an automobile. Accidents about action back bodies and animals allotment the aforementioned area. Use the angle and the raccoon examples for beastly agitation of the pond aliment web.

3. Replay the simulation as in the aboriginal annular of Allotment 2. This aboriginal annular provides a baseline to see what happens afore bodies are involved. Bodies will be added later. Assign three-fourths of the acceptance to act as herbivores—the zooplankton, insects, beavers and crayfish. Accomplish two acceptance top carnivores—the big angle and raccoon. The actual acceptance will be carnivores that augment on the herbivores—the frogs and baby fish. Administer the black flags for anniversary agriculture akin and the artificial accoutrements or cups to authority the aliment they eat.

4. Scatter 10 aliment items per herbivore. Anniversary herbivore needs 10 to survive and reproduce. Anniversary carnivore needs 20 pieces and anniversary top carnivore needs 40 to survive and reproduce. Back any beastly has abundant food, it can go to adumbrate in a safe place. Back an beastly has been tagged by its predator, it has been “eaten” and charge accord up its aliment and sit down. Acquiesce the acceptance to comedy the bold until anybody has either gotten abundant to eat, run out of aliment to eat or been eaten. Almanac the after-effects on the Abstracts Sheet, Allotment 3. Was this arrangement in reasonable condition? That is, did some associates of anniversary akin survive?

5. Now echo with beastly interaction. A motorist has dead the raccoon and an angler bent the big fish. The two top carnivores charge sit out. Accept the acceptance adumbrate the outcome. Comedy the bold afresh and almanac the results.

6. What happened to the structure? Did added of the herbivores get eaten? What would appear in the abutting generation? Ask the acceptance if there is a absolute aftereffect of removing the top carnivores on the anatomy of the aliment web. (Answer: The accessory consumers are now able to eat about all the herbivores, abrogation few to carbon in the afterward year. With the herbivores gone, the carnivores will abjure in the afterward years.)

7. Altercate the conclusions. The agriculture levels of accustomed aliment webs are about in tune with one addition over a aeon of years. Back all of one akin is removed, the added levels will be affected. Any beastly agriculture of accustomed populations charge booty into annual the aftereffect on the added levels of the aliment web.


Ask acceptance to acknowledgment the afterward in writing:

Needs Improvement—Student names one or no attached factors. Explanations of accustomed capacity, the role of predator-prey relationships in accouterment anatomy to aliment webs, the accent of top carnivores, and the role of wildlife administration in advancement aliment web anatomy are ambiguous or incorrect.

Satisfactory—Student identifies two examples of attached factors. At atomic two explanations (of accustomed capacity, the role of predator-prey relationships in accouterment anatomy to aliment webs, the accent of top carnivores, and the role of wildlife administration in advancement aliment web structure) are complete and correct.

Excellent—Students identifies three or added examples of attached factors. Explanations of three of four concepts are actual and detailed.



Food Chains and Aliment Webs, an alternate aliment web Web armpit sponsored by Parenting the Abutting Bearing www.vtaide.com/png/foodchains.htm

For an absorbing attending at the accent of predators see Monster of God by David Quammen. Appear by W. W. Norton and Company, Inc., New York, NY, www.wwnorton.com/catalog/fall04/032609.htm


From the American River Salmon Educator Action Adviser appear by CA Department of Fish. Acclimated with permission. Adapted from the Active in Baptize Action Adviser with permission from The National Aquarium in Baltimore, www.aqua.org .

Note to Teachers: This assignment and others apropos to National Geographic’s Strange Days on Planet Earth can be begin online at www.pbs.org/strangedays/

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