Lesson Plan

Succession and Nutrient Cycling in a Temperate Rainforest Ecosystem

Forest, with closeup of the stump of a large covered in moss.
The coastal, 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, alaska, lesson plan, Kenai Fjords, rainforest


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.


Teachers need to read the Succession (pg 75) and Temperate Rainforest (pg 77) sections of the Forging Connections resource.


All of the readings can be found in the resource: Forging Connections - An Educational Resource For Kenai Fjords National Park.

  • Lesson plan is found on page 111.
  • "Succession" reading is found on page 75.
  • "Temperate Rainforest" reading is found on page 77.
  • 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 resources contain additional information or supplies useful in the lesson plan.

  • Lichenland - Fun with Lichens from Oregon State University
  • Ancient Forests of the Pacific 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.


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

Last updated: March 30, 2018