Ecosystem


Ecosystem Type

An ecosystem is an area that contains organisms (plants, animals, bacteria, etc.) interacting with one another and their non-living environment (air, soil, etc.)  Using the examples below, choose the one from the dropdown menu below that best fits the ecosystem you are investigating.

Mowed Grass

Prairie
Riparian
Unmowed Field
Wetland
Woodland

Weather Conditions

Changes in weather can directly affect the wind, temperature and soil measurements taken in an ecosystem.  These weather changes can make data compared over time difficult for scientists to analyze.  Scientists need to be sure they are comparing measurements that were taken during the same season, time of day, and weather conditions.  Determine what weather conditions represent your study site today and select the correct option from the "Current Weather Conditions" drop down menu below.
 

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Windspeed

It is important to measure the wind speed in an ecosystem because the wind is a very powerful force in shaping the way an ecosystem looks and feels.  Strong winds have the ability to make air temperatures feel colder than they actual are, can knock over plants and shrubs, break branches off trees, and be an indication of changes in the weather.  Scientists use traditional methods (beaufort scale) and modern methods (anemometers and advanced weather vanes) to monitor wind changes with the environment to study the impact of wind on the living and nonliving parts of the environment.  

Beaufort

 Use the beaufort scale in your field box to determine the wind speed within the ecosystem. The beaufort scale is a traditional way of measuring wind speed by looking at the effect the wind has on the surrounding trees.  Observe a nearby tree.  Be sure to observe the top, or canopy, of the tree.  Starting from the bottom, read the scale until you find the option that best describes what is happening to the trees within the ecosystem.  Record your findings in the "Beaufort Scale" blanks below. 

Anemometer

Use the anemometer in your field box to determine the current wind speed. An anemometer rotates wind through propeller blades to calculate in miles per hour how fast the wind is blowing.  Turn on the anemometer by holding the "MODE" button for at least 3 seconds.  Make sure the anemometer is in the wind speed mode (screen should show 0.0 mph.).  If not, click the "MODE" button as many times as necessary to get to the wind speed mode. Once in the wind speed mode, there are three different measuring options, illustrated by different symbols in the bottom left corner of the screen:

 

Ø--  Average wind speed

▲  --  Maximum wind speed

(No symbol)  --  Current wind speed

 

 

Click the "+" button to change the measuring option until the screen shows the symbol representing average wind speed.  Standing completely still, hold the anemometer in your hand, and extend your arm all the way out.  Move your entire body until you are facing the direction the wind is blowing.  When the measurement on the anemometer remains steady for at least 5 seconds record your findings in the "Anemometer Wind Speed" blank below.

Beaufort Scale

mph

Temperature

The air, soil surface, and underground temperatures are important measurements to record.  Temperatures are different at different locations in the same ecosystem and can be very different from ecosystem to ecosystem.  In a single ecosystem, temperatures in one of these locations can change throughout the year. Consider seasonal affects on temperature, like how a warm summer sun can increase soil surface temperature or how a cool wintery breeze can lower it.  Measuring temperature allows scientists to be able to draw conclusions about the temperature trends (or patterns) within an ecosystem and between two different ecosystems.  For example, you may find that the soil temperature was the same in two different ecosystems, but the air temperature was different. 

Air Temperature

Use the Vernier LabQuest, temperature sensor, and "Celsius to Fahrenheit Conversion Chart" in your field box to determine air temperature within the ecosystem in Celsius and Fahrenheit.  Turn on your LabQuest.  Plug in the temperature sensor to any channel at the top of the LabQuest.  Hold the temperature sensor straight out in front of your body at eye level.  Click the green arrow collect button and collect data for 30 seconds.  On the graph screen, click "Analyze", then "Statistics", then "Temperature."  Look at the results and determine the average (or mean) of your data and record your findings in the "Air Temperature °C" data entry blank below.  Round your air temperature reading in degrees Celsius to the nearest whole number and use the "Celsius to Fahrenheit Conversion Chart" in your field box to determine the air temperature in degrees Fahrenheit.  Record that number in the "Air Temperature °F" data entry blank below.

Soil Surface Temperature

Use the Vernier LabQuest, temperature sensor, and "Celsius to Fahrenheit Conversion Chart" in your field box to determine soil surface temperature within the ecosystem in Celsius and Fahrenheit.  Turn on your LabQuest.  Plug in the temperature sensor to any channel at the top of the LabQuest.  Lay the temperature sensor on the top of the ground right at the soil surface.  Click the green arrow collect button and collect data for 30 seconds.  On the graph page, click "Analyze", then "Statistics", then "Temperature".  Look at the results and determine the average (or mean) of your data and record your findings in the "Soil Surface Temperature °C" data entry blank below.  Round your soil surface temperature reading in degrees Celsius to the nearest whole number and use the "Celsius to Fahrenheit Conversion Chart" in your field box to determine the soil surface temperature in degrees Fahrenheit.  Record that number in the "Soil Surface Temperature °F" data entry blank below.

Underground Temperature

Use the Vernier LabQuest, temperature sensor, and "Celsius to Fahrenheit Conversion Chart" in your field box to determine the underground temperature within the ecosystem in Celsius and Fahrenheit.  Turn on your LabQuest.  Plug in the temperature sensor to any channel at the top of the LabQuest.  Insert the sensor as far into the ground as possible - Do not force the sensor!  Click the green arrow collect button and collect data for 30 seconds.  On the graph page, click "Analyze", then "Statistics", then "Temperature".  Look at the results and determine the average (or mean) of your data and record your findings in the "Underground Temperature °C" data entry blank below.  Round your underground temperature reading in degrees Celsius to the nearest whole number and use the "Celsius to Fahrenheit Conversion Chart" in your field box to determine the underground temperature in degrees Fahrenheit.  Record that number in the "Underground Temperature °F" data entry blank below.

Water Temperature  (Only if available)

If water is available in the ecosystem, use the Vernier LabQuest and Temperature sensor in your field box to determine the temperature of that water.  Turn on your LabQuest.  Plug in the temperature sensor to any channel at the top of the LabQuest.  Gently place the tip of the sensor into the water to be measured. Click the green arrow collect button and collect data for 30 seconds.  On the graph page, click "Analyze", then "Statistics", then "Temperature".  Look at the results and determine the average (or mean) of your data and record your findings in the "Water Temperature °C" data entry blank below.  Return to the meter page, click on °C and change the units to °F.  Return to the graph page, click "Analyze", then "Statistics", then "Temperature" and then REPEAT (analyze, statistics, temperature) Look at the results and determine the average (or mean) of your data and record your findings in the "Water Temperature °F" data entry blank below.

Soil Studies

 No two soils are ever the same and they can change over time.  Analyzing a soil sample allows scientists to observe the changes in color, texture, composition, and soil decomposers over time and between different ecosystems.  Observing a change in color, texture, composition and decomposers (including macroinvertebrates) indicates to scientists that there may be a change in soil nutrients, pH, moisture level and/or temperature.  These changes may signify a larger change in the characteristics of the ecosystem containing the soil sample. 

Soil Moisture

Use the Vernier LabQuest, soil moisture sensor, and trowel in your field box to determine the soil moisture of your sample.  Turn on your LabQuest and plug in the soil moisture sensor to any channel at the top of the LabQuest.  Use the trowel to make a small opening in the ground.  To do this, push the trowel straight down into the ground.  Then move it back and forth to widen the opening.  Pull the trowel out of the ground, move it over slightly, and repeat until the opening is at least 6 inches long and 3 inches deep.  Keep any extra soil nearby - you will need it later!


Once the opening is made, place the connected soil moisture sensor into the opening LENGTHWISE (see photo).  With the sensor in the opening, carefully press the soil around the sensor.  Be sure to cover the entire sensor and GENTLY press the soil down on either side and on top of the sensor!  Click the green arrow collect button and collect data for 30 seconds.  On the graph page, click the "Analyze", then "Statistics", then "Soil Moisture".  Look at the results and determine the average (or mean) of your data and record your findings in the "Soil Moisture" blank below.   

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out of 45%

Percolation Test

Use the plastic yogurt cup and stopwatch in your field box to complete the percolation test.  Percolation or infiltration is the movement of water through the openings (pore space) in soil.  So, a soil percolation test measures how quickly water will soak (percolate/infiltrate) into the soil.  This is important because plants need this water for growth.  If water percolates too slow (puddles on the landscape) or too fast (runs off the landscape causing erosion and other problems) the plants will not get the water they need to survive.


To begin, fill your plastic yogurt cup to the blue line with water from the water jug near the instructor.  Also, make sure your stopwatch is in timing mode "0:00:00" and you know how to use it properly.   Pour the water from your cup into the hole and start the stopwatch immediately.  Watch the water in the hole.  Once all the water in the hole has disappeared immediately stop the stopwatch.  Record the time on the stopwatch in the "Percolation Test" blank below.  Enter the current time on the stopwatch into the blank below.  If it does not finish enter N/A.

Enter your results in mm:ss format.

Biodiversity

By now, you have learned that weather can influence wind speed, and wind speed can influence air temperature, and all three of those elements (weather, wind, and temperature) can influence soil moisture and percolation rates, but what you may not know is that all of these elements can affect the biodiversity of the ecosystem.  Biodiversity means "many different types of plant and animal life."  The weather, wind, temperature, and soil conditions all influence the type of plants that can grow in an ecosystem and these plants influence the number of animals that will live within this ecosystem.
Better ecosystem conditions = Better plant growth = Better animals within the ecosystem = Higher ecosystem biodiversity 

Animal Signs

The presence or absence of animal signs provide clues to the overall ecosystem biodiversity.

Bite/Gnaw Marks

Signs of Animal Bedding

Scat Dropping

Animal Tracks

Animal Sounds

Take a moment to listen for animal sounds - birds singing, frogs calling, squirrel alarms, etc....

Evidence of Digging

Fur   

Feathers

Nests or Burrows

 

Plant Transect

The number of different plants in an ecosystem is important to the overall biodiversity of your ecosystem.

                                      Many different plant types → Higher biodiversity in the ecosystem
                                      Fewer different plant types → Lower biodiversity in the ecosystem

Use the white rope in your field box to complete a plant transect in the ecosystem.  Spread the rope out across an area of your choice within the ecosystem you are investigation.  Count the number of DIFFERENT plants that are within 12 inches of the rope.  Don't forget to look up and count any trees that may have branches hanging over the rope.  Count each different plant type only once.

For example, if a piece of grass is touching the rope, that counts as ONE plant even though there may be MANY individual blades of grass touching the rope.    Record your findings in the "Plant" blank below.

 

Biodiversity Predictions

What is biodiversity anyway?  Bio = plant and animal life  Diversity = many different types
Taken together, biodiversity means "many different types of plant and animal life." So...
Many different plant and animal types → Higher biodiversity in the ecosystem
Fewer different plant and animal types → Lower biodiversity in the ecosystem
Use the information you collected during your plant transect and your investigation of the environment for signs of animal life to decide whether the ecosystem you have been investigating has high or low biodiversity.
If you have few animal signs and few different plant types, you will have low biodiversity.  If you have many animal signs and many different plant types, you will have high biodiversity.  Record your findings in the "Biodiversity Rating" selection below.  

Very lowLowMediumHighVery high
Biodiversity Rating