Lesson Plan

Land of Many Opportunists

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Grade Level:
Fourth Grade-Eighth Grade
Subject:
Biology: Plants, Botany, Ecology
Duration:
40 minutes
Group Size:
Up to 36
Setting:
outdoors
National/State Standards:
Colorado Science:
4th grade 2.3; 6th grade 2.1; 7th grade 2.1, 2.5; 8th grade 2.1, 2.2
Colorado Math:
4th grade 3.1; 5th grade 3.1

Overview

Students will learn how aggressive exotic species take advantage of a wide range of resources in order to expand their range and compete in a nonnative habitat.

Objective(s)

Students will learn how aggressive exotic species take advantage of a wide range of resources in order to expand their range and compete in a nonnative habitat.

Background

Many exotic species can easily take advantage of a wide range of required resources (water, food, shelter, space, etc.), because they are living in an ecosystem that is not their native one. Exotic animals may feed off of a broad range of foods and have no native predators existing to control their populations. Invasive exotic plants may be successful in a variety of soils and environmental conditions. Exotic plants and animals may not be affected by native diseases, which normally act in the ecosystem to regulate and maintain normal populations. Ecologists consider any species that can take advantage of a broad spectrum of resources opportunistic.

On the other hand, sensitive native species tend to have evolved very specific environmental needs. This makes survival
difficult when unexpected changes-biological or environmental-occur. An example of a highly specialized native species is an alpine plant. If the climate gets slightly warmer, trees take over the habitat. If the climate gets colder, rock and ice begin to dominate. When nonnative species move into a habitat, they can modify and impact the ecosystems they invade. Those native species with specific habitat requirements may lose their ability to compete with opportunistic intruders.

If the exotic species is highly aggressive, it may even be able to create a monoculture and keep native species from re-colonizing the habitat. Fortunately for the natives, nature has built-in regulatory systems which make monocultures extremely unstable in the natural world. Agricultural researchers are continuously battling this natural 'regulatory system' with pesticides, because their own monocultures of agricultural plants are so often under relentless attack by disease. So it is possible that through nature's tendency to balance itself out, a natural 'remedy' would develop against invasive monocultures to keep exotics at bay.

Explore Great Sand Dunes' web page on plants for more on the many flowering plants of the park and preserve.

Materials

Pinto beans, red beans, black beans, 60 feet of rope, 6 boundary cones, clipboard, graph paper

Procedure

Extensions

Look at the Exotic Escapes online activity.

Vocabulary

baseline, consumer, exotic, habitat, monoculture, nonnative, opportunist, producer, species