Lesson Plan

Succession and Nutrient Cycling in a Temperate Rainforest Ecosystem

Forest, with closeup of the stump of a large covered in moss
The temperate rainforest

NPS Photo

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Grade Level:
Tenth Grade-Twelfth Grade
Biology: Plants, Botany, Climate, Ecology, Environment, Geography, Glaciers, Hydrology, Meteorology, Physical Fitness, Science and Technology
4 sessions of 60 minutes (initial set up and design); sampling once a week for 2-3 months.
Group Size:
8 or fewer
National/State Standards:
E 1, 2, F 2, 5, G 2
succession, nutrient cycle


Students will examine succession in two forest ecosystems: a recently de-glaciated area and an established temperate rainforest. (Note: This lesson can be adapted to succession in any forest ecosystem.)


Students will examine the differences in throughfall, litterfall, and soil condition the two forests sites. Students will learn to design an experiment to investigate a well thought out hypothesis. Students will gain an understanding of nutrient cycling in a forest. Students will understand how outside influences, natural or human-made, can interfere with this cycle.


Read sections on Succession and Temperate Rainforest Ecology in this manual.


You will need at least one copy of the glacial succession reading and the temperate rainforest ecology reading

You may want a full copy of "Forging Connections - An Educational Resource For Kenai Fjords National Park" 

  • Journals for each student
  • 8-12 1x1 sq. meter litterfall catchers (Need 4- 1”x 2” x 3’ boards per catcher and 1 3’2”x3’2” piece of fi ne mesh screen per catcher)
  • 6 Throughfall catchers (Need 8-12, 2 liter bottles and 8 -12, 2’ pieces of rebar or strong wood stake, duct tape, clear plastic cup and volume cylinder for measuring.)
  • 6 Soil test kits (a set of 10 for each nitrogen, potassium, phosphorus, and pH) can be ordered online.




Homework Assignment 2 Assessment

  • Did the student do a design for each of the 3 hypotheses?
  • Was the design well thought out?
  • Were variables considered?
  • Were multiple trials or data replicates considered?
  • Was bias considered?

Homework Assignment 3 Assessment
The student’s ability to make sense of these questions in their journal will thoroughly evaluate the thought put into this project. Pay close attention to:

  • Graphed results—can you read and understand them? Are they organized well?
  • Observations of possible data errors—if there were discrepancies, what did the student do?
  • The answers to Question 3 in this assignment contain the real conclusions where all items can be compared. It should be weighted heavily. The final three questions assess the student’s ability to take knowledge from this project and apply it to other projects and to their understanding of the workings of the world.

Park Connections

Add additional questions to the Classroom Discussion on Experimental Design (step 4, above):

If you were a resource management professional in a national park tasked with allowing the public to observe the resources but also with conservation of those same resources, how would you allow for viewing of these two ecosystems? What if you were tasked with adding a trail to your park, which ecosystem do you think could better withstand visitation and why?

Additional Resources

These websites contain additional information or supplies useful in the lesson plan.

Ancient Forests of the Pacifi c Northwest by Elliot A. Norse, Island Press, 1989

Carolina Biological Supply sells Rapitest 66-5404 kits that will run 10 soil samples each for nitrogen,
phosphorus, potassium, and pH. http://www.carolina.com/product/rapitest+soil+test+kit.do?keyword=rapitest+66-5404&sortby=bestMatches


Lichens, Litterfall, Nitrogen Fixing, Nutrient cycling, Photosynthesis, Precipitation,
Soil pH, Substrate, Succession, Temperate Rainforest, Throughfall.