Lesson Plan



Students will understand habitats, predator/prey relationship, and the trophic structure on which Great Sand Dunes' habitats are built.


Students will understand habitats, predator/prey relationship, and the trophic structure on which Great Sand Dunes' habitats are built.


All ecosystems are based upon the abiotic characteristics of the landscape and climate. The combined topography, soil type, amount of precipitation, amount of sunlight, temperature regime, and wind regime all affect what kind of life will grow in a particular area.

Out of these abiotic factors emerge the first level of life-the producers. As a group, producers make up what ecologists refer to as the first trophic level. Producers are the algae, cyanobacteria, and plants within an ecosystem. They produce the foods on which the other trophic levels feed. Trophic levels are simply a way for ecologists to describe the food chain. It is important to note that trophic levels are visualized as pyramidal in shape. Because energy is lost in the form of heat at each level, the quantity of life that can be supported becomes smaller at each level. All biological factors decrease at each ascending level: energy, biomass, and number of organisms.

Biological systems are typically composed of four trophic levels:

producers-herbivores-small carnivores-large carnivores

There are animals that overlap these groupings, such as scavengers and omnivores.

Explore Great Sand Dunes' web pages on park ecosystems, plants, and animals to learn more about the biological systems in the park and preserve.


Print (on cardstock) one copy of the Habistack Cards and one copy of the Habistack Help Sheet for each group. Cut out the cards.


Discuss with your students the concept of habitats at Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve. Students should understand the basic community types and gain a general understanding of some of the species that live there. The difference between biotic and abiotic should be discussed with your students. Only a general understanding of habitats and community types is necessary, the Help Sheet (or help cards within the Habistack deck) will help students understand exactly who lives in which community type at Great Sand Dunes.

Preparing the game:

Print one copy of the Habistack cards per group on cardstock and cut each card out.

Before playing the game, organize the students into their groups and give each group one deck of cards. Spread out the cards face up on the floor and have the students practice building trophic pyramids with the cards (seebuilding trophic pyramids below).

Game playing instructions:

Object: To get the most points possible through the construction of "trophic pyramids" and by playing Steward cards before someone gets rid of all their cards.

Points: Each completed trophic level (layer of the pyramid) is worth 10 points. Each successfully played Steward Card is worth 10 points. For each Steward Card remaining in a player's hand when the first person goes out, 10 points are subtracted. Twenty points are awarded for each fully constructed stack (pyramid).

The deal: Seven cards are dealt to each player. The remaining cards are placed face down in the center. This is the draw pile.

The play: A player draws two cards from the draw pile or two from the discard pile. If the player wishes to draw from the discard pile and only one card remains, only one card can be drawn. If possible, the player may build one layer or more of one or more trophic pyramids. An entire layer must be played at a time. At the end of your turn, discard one card.

Building trophic pyramids: Trophic pyramids have three levels. The bottom level is the habitat level. One of the cards must be one of the six habitat types. This fundamental habitat card must be associated with a Biotic Card and an Abiotic Card. The second level is the herbivore level. It contains two herbivores that may be found in that habitat. They cannot be of the same species. The top level is the predator level. It must be a carnivore or insectivore that is frequently found in that habitat. Steward Cards can help form a trophic pyramid, by being a substitute for any card except the fundamental Habitat Card itself. Only one Steward Card can be played per pyramid. Each layer must be played completely during the player's turn-incomplete layers cannot be played.

Steward Cards: During a player's turn, if a Steward Card is on the table in another player's stack, it may taken. A card in the player's hand that correctly fits in that location must be substituted for a Steward Card. The player must then play the Steward Card before the turn is over. A player may only take one Steward Card per turn.

End game: The game is over when a player's last card is played or discarded.

Game extension: Have each group compete for total group points. This helps the students within the groups work together and assist each other in learning how trophic pyramids are built.


abiotic, biotic, community, habitat, species, trophic levels