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Environmental Science

Ecological concepts are important for Environmental Science students to learn, but most ecology experiments require more time than the typical college lab period allows; plus, not many places will let you add sewage and toxins to their lakes! Our simulated labs explore eutrophication and toxin biomagnification, fire regimes and succession, and investigate general ecological principles such as population growth, species interactions and community structure. The labs provide a great way to add active learning experiences to environmental science courses.

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Environmental Science Modules

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Chapter: Climate Change
Builds an understanding of the scientific evidence that climate is changing and elucidates the physics underlying global temperatures, the evidence on the impact of humans on the climate, and how changing temperatures may affect ecological systems.
Table of Contents
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Level: Sophomore/Junior, Advanced
Key Concepts: Attribution of Climate Change | Basic Climatology | Climate Models | Detecting Trends | Ecological Effects of Climate Change | Evidence of Climate Change
Courses: Ecology | Environmental Science
Chapter: Nutrient Cycling
Examines ecosystem and global cycling of nutrients, focusing on nitrogen, phosphorus, and carbon. Introduces fluxes and pools, different components of the nitrogen cycle, the carbon cycle and how anthropogenic CO2 emissions are changing it, acid rain, and other related topics. A simulated watershed with both forest and lake habitats lets students explore how human activities can impact nutrient balance.
Table of Contents
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Level: Intro, Sophomore/Junior
Key Concepts: Acid Rain | Carbon Cycle | Nitrogen Cycle | Phosphorus Cycle | watersheds
Courses: Ecology | Environmental Science
Lab (Tutorial): Isle Royale
This very popular lab has been revised to include onscreen instructions, feedback for students, and a new graphing exercise. The lab explores important population biology concepts, including exponential and logistic growth and carrying capacity, using the classic predator-prey system of moose and wolves on an island in Lake Superior. An unexpected twist at the end creates a great topic for discussion.
Level: Intro
Key Concepts: undefined
Courses: Applied Ecology | Community Ecology | Conservation Biology | Ecology | Ecosystems | Environmental Science | Intro Bio: Eco/Evo/Genetics | Intro Bio: Majors | Intro Bio: Non-majors | Population Biology
Lab (Workbook): Isle Royale Demo video available
This popular laboratory explores basic population biology concepts including exponential and logistic growth and carrying capacity. It is based on the textbook example of a predator-prey system involving wolves and moose on an island in Lake Superior. Students start out by characterizing the growth of a colonizing population of moose in the absence of predators. Next they introduce wolves, and study the resulting predator-prey cycles. Do predators increase or decrease the health of their prey populations? Students investigate this question by sampling the energy stores of moose with and without wolves present. Finally, they try changing the plant growth rate to see how primary productivity influences population dynamics.
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Level: Intro
Key Concepts: Carrying Capacity | Population growth | Predator-prey Dynamics
Courses: Ecology | Intro Bio: Eco/Evo/Genetics | Intro Bio: Non-majors | Population Biology
Reviews:
"We plan to continue to use EcoBeaker software in our Biology 101 labs next year. Student and TA feedback was very positive on both these labs [Isle Royale and Nutrient Pollution]."
Bruce Fall, University of Minnesota, 1,000 Student Introductory Biology Course
"Our experience with [the Isle Royale and Darwinian Snails labs] last Spring in our majors introductory course was excellent."
Dr. Lawrence Blumer, Morehouse College
"Our intro ecology course did the new Isle Royale lab this week and all of the instructors agreed that the new version is GREAT - so thanks for the great educational tool!!!! We all love how you worked global climate change into the new version and we also love the t-test at the end."
Billy Flint, James Madison University
Lab (Tutorial): Understanding Population Growth Models (BETA)
Students experiment with simulations of engaging creatures whose populations are undergoing exponential and logistic growth. Through guided exploration, students discover what is meant by N, r, K, and dN/dt in population growth models, and apply the models to make predictions. This module was developed as a pre-lab for Isle Royale or a supplement for courses that cover intro-level population biology.
Level: Intro
Key Concepts: Carrying Capacity | Exponential Growth | Logistic Growth | population growth models | Populations
Courses: Applied Ecology | Community Ecology | Conservation Biology | Ecology | Ecosystems | Environmental Science | Intro Bio: Eco/Evo/Genetics | Intro Bio: Majors | Intro Bio: Non-majors
Lab (Workbook): Liebig's Barrel and Limiting Nutrients
In this lab, students grow three different algal species in isolation in media containing nitrogen, phosphorous, and silica. They must first figure out which nutrient is limiting for each algal species, and what happens when the concentration of that limiting nutrient is changed. Then based on individual growth trajectories, students predict what will happen when different combinations species are grown together. Finally, student can manipulate death rates along with nutrients to explore R* competition and the paradox of the plankton.
View sample screen
Level: Sophomore/Junior
Key Concepts: Competition | Limiting Nutrients | Nutrient Ratios
Courses: Aquatic Ecology | Ecology | Ecosystems | Environmental Science
Chapter: Ecosystem Ecology
Our growing ecological footprint and reliance on ecosystem services provide context to learn about the flow of energy through ecosystems, beginning with primary production and respiration and then exploring secondary production, including consumer and detrital food chains, transfer efficiencies, and energy flow diagrams, with applications to biofuels production and to sustainability.
Table of Contents
Look Inside Section 2: Primary Production and Respiration Section 3: Secondary Production Section 4: Ecosystem Energetics Section 5: Ecosystem Services
Level: Sophomore/Junior
Key Concepts: Ecological Footprint | Ecosystem | Energy | Energy Flow | Fish Farming | GPP | Net Primary Production | NPP | primary production | respiration | secondary production | trophic pyramid
Courses: Ecology | Environmental Science
Lab (Workbook): Intermediate Disturbance Hypothesis
Using a model of succession from grasses to trees, students start out by observing a successional sequence without disturbance. Then they get to start setting fires. By systematically varying the size and frequency of fires, they recreate the standard textbook graph of the intermediate disturbance hypothesis showing that species diversity is highest at intermediate levels of disturbance. In an open-ended advanced section of the lab, students can alter the susceptibility of different species to burning and their succession rate to see how these factors influence diversity. This lab is often cited as a favorite by both instructors and students for its content, and also for the graphics that display red fire rushing through the forest. Although the ideas are typically introduced in upper-level ecology courses, the lab is straightforward and emphasizes data collection and graphing, making it applicable for courses for students without a scientific background.
View sample screen
Level: Intro, Sophomore/Junior
Key Concepts: Disturbance | Intermediate Disturbance Hypothesis | Scientific modeling | Succession
Courses: Community Ecology | Ecology | Intro Bio: Eco/Evo/Genetics | Intro Bio: Non-majors
Lab (Workbook): Nutrient Pollution (formerly Sewage) Demo video available
What will happen if your city starts dumping lots of extra sewage into your local lake? This laboratory provides students with tools to explore nutrient enrichment, eutrophication, and bioaccumulation of toxins. Using a simulated lake containing phytoplankton, zooplankton and fish, they try varying phosphorus and nitrogen inputs, and record and graph the resulting algal and oxygen levels in the lake. They also sample species at each trophic level to determine what would happen if the sewage were to contain a biomagnifying toxin such as mercury. At the end of the lab they write a "letter-to-the-editor" about their findings and provide recommendations for the city regarding the consequences of sewage in the lake. This lab is used widely in non-majors and introductory biology classes as well as intro environmental science classes.
View sample screen
Level: Intro
Key Concepts: Aquatic Communities | Bioaccumulation of Toxins | Eutrophication | Limiting Nutrients | Phosphorus
Courses: Applied Ecology | Aquatic Ecology | Ecosystems | Environmental Science | Intro Bio: Eco/Evo/Genetics | Intro Bio: Non-majors
Reviews:
"We plan to continue to use EcoBeaker software in our Biology 101 labs next year. Student and TA feedback was very positive on both these labs [Isle Royale and Nutrient Pollution]."
Bruce Fall, University of Minnesota, 1,000 Student Introductory Biology Course

"They've done the first half of Isle Royale, and are doing the second half this week. No one seems to be having any difficulty using the software, even though I gave them very little information other than what's in the packet. (And they're working on it entirely outside of class time.)"

Dr. Tara Rajaniem, University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth

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