Ecosystem Scavenger Hunt
Duration: 30 – 40 minutes
Vocabulary: ecosystem, habitat
Summary: Students search for habitats within a certain ecosystem in a scavenger hunt.
Objectives: Students gain a deeper understanding of how organisms work together to form an ecosystem, and how humans might affect this.
Materials: print outs of scavenger hunt lists, pencils, clipboards
If an animal lived somewhere cold all of the time, how would it look? What about if it was really hot? Animals have adapted extremely well to the physical aspects of their surroundings. In fact, they have adapted so well that in most cases we cannot take an animal from one place and put it into another environment. For example, an African lion would not do very well in Pennsylvania, and a polar bear would not do very well in the middle of a desert.
An ecosystem is an area where many different populations of animals live and depend on each other, but also where they have specifically adapted to survive with the non-living elements of their surroundings like water, temperature, amount of sunlight, etc. For example, land plants need water to live, but too much water is bad because plant roots also need to breath. Plants living in wetlands have adapted to deal with this problem by having hollow root systems. This allows them to get air to the roots from up above, while still standing in water. This is just one example—there are wetland ecosystems, forest ecosystems, desert ecosystems, etc.
One of the very interesting aspects of ecosystems is how they all function together to provide important services we depend on. One of the biggest examples of this is water filtration. When all of the plants and animals in a wetland are functioning together, water is trapped and slowed down. This includes the dirty water that overflows the banks of streams during a flood. The wetland then filters out the pollutants and the clean water slowly percolates into the ground and eventually into our faucets.
The same is true about forest ecosystems. When the trees in a forest are healthy and alive, the tree roots hold onto the soil and the canopy blocks the rain from directly hitting the ground. This prevents soil from eroding into streams and slows down the water so it can filter into the ground.
Ask students to think of ways what happens in a forest might impact a stream, or even the ocean. Have them think of the different ways these ecosystems interact and influence each other, and why it matters for us as humans.
Divide students into groups of 2 or 3. Hand out scavenger hunt worksheets and have students search for evidence of ecosystems. The list can include some or all of the following:
A place that is wet
5 different signs of animal life
Ten different looking plants
A plant that likes the sun
A plant that likes the shade
3 different insects
Roots of a plant that hold onto clumps of soil
Berries or nuts (food for certain animals)
A flower with pollen
4 different types of tree leaves
A place where two habitats come together
Finally, have students write a poem about the type of ecosystem they explored.
Have students explain what an ecosystem is and why it is important.
Have students list different ecosystems in their area.
Go to another location and repeat the scavenger hunt and compare the results.
Have students research different types of ecosystems and prepare a poster.