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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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Lab (Tutorial): Darwinian Snails
This tutorial-style lab investigates the requirements for evolution by natural selection using an engaging simulation of crab predation on snails. Students are able to manipulate the snail population to sequentially “turn off” variation, heritability, and differential survival based on shell thickness to investigate the importance of each of these factors. The module can be packaged with an optional open-ended extension activity called Experimenting with Snails (see separate description).
Level: Intro
Key Concepts: Experimental Design | Genetic Variation | Heritability | Natural Selection
Courses: Evolution | Intro Bio: Eco/Evo/Genetics | Intro Bio: Non-majors | Marine Biology
Lab (Workbook): Darwinian Snails Demo video available
This lab and accompanying workbook lead students through simulated experiments investigate the assumptions behind natural selection using an experimental system involving green crabs preying on periwinkle snail. Students are able to "violate" each assumption in turn to explore whether evolution by natural selection still occurs. Exercises target common misconceptions among biology students. The updated "tutorial-style" version of this lab provides students with feedback as they go, as well as other new features.
View sample screen
Level: Intro
Key Concepts: Experimental Design | Genetic Variation | Heritability | Natural Selection
Courses: Evolution | Intro Bio: Eco/Evo/Genetics | Intro Bio: Non-majors | Marine Biology
Reviews:
"[I like] the way [the Snail lab] walks the students through the requirement for natural selection one by one, and shows what happens if each of the requirements isn't met. I also like that it has students working with real data."
Dr. Jennie Hoffman, Everett Community College
"[In the snail lab, I liked] the active student participation. Students were very involved and excited about 'being a crab' and actually eating the snails. Students reinforced their ability to graph data and made use of critical thinking skills; reinforcement of the fact that it is populations, not individuals, that evolve and the factors that effect evolution of populations; the knowledge that they could study an evolutionary process in real time. "
Dr. Laura Pannaman, New Jersey City University
"We completed running 20 Biology sections of Darwnian Snails last week. The laboratory sessions went very well. Most instructors opted to take students to our computer lab and offer help while the students worked at the computer. Some instructors gave students the option of completing the exercise at home. Very minimal problems were reported with the software. ...All in all I saw lots of smiling faculty and heard the comment more than once that this lab really drives home basic principles of evolution."
Dr. Joel Watkins, Schoolcraft College, Introductory Biology Course
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.
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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: Population Growth
Explores geometric, exponential and logistic growth, density-dependent vs. independent controls, and more advanced topics in population growth. Simulated agricultural systems form the basis for problem-solving throughout the chapter.
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Level: Intro, Sophomore/Junior
Key Concepts: Density Dependence vs. Independence | Doubling Time | Exponential Growth | Geometric Growth | Logistic Growth
Courses: Ecology | Environmental Science | Intro Bio: Eco/Evo/Genetics
Chapter: Life History
Fundamental life history trade-offs set the stage for students to explore demography and life tables. Simulated experiments include several interesting model organisms, including humans.
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Level: Sophomore/Junior
Key Concepts: Demographics and Age Structure | Growth Rates | Life Cycles | Life History Trade-offs | Life Table Parameters
Courses: Conservation Biology | Ecology
Chapter: Community Dynamics
Focuses on stories and simulations within Yellowstone National Park to explore succession and disturbance, food chains and food webs, and related topics.
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Level: Sophomore/Junior
Key Concepts: Community Stability | Disturbance | Succession | trophic dynamics
Courses: Ecology
Lab (Tutorial): Experimenting with Snails
This (free) extension to the Darwinian Snails tutorial/lab focuses on the experimental process. After interactively reviewing the fundamentals of the experimental method, students are challenged to design, conduct, and interpret the results of their own experiments on natural selection. This module builds on Darwinian Snails, using a similar but more sophisticated simulation of snail-crab dynamics.
Level: Intro, Sophomore/Junior
Key Concepts: Experimental Design | Genetic Variation | Heritability | Natural Selection | Scientific method
Courses: Evolution | Intro Bio: Eco/Evo/Genetics | Intro Bio: Majors | Intro Bio: Non-majors | Microevolution
Chapter: Competition
Covers intraspecific and interspecific competition, including niches, logistic growth, Lotka-Volterra equations, and isoclines. Allows students to dynamically explore relevant quantitative models, including manipulating phase plane plots of the Lotka-Volterra competition equations.
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Level: Sophomore/Junior
Key Concepts: Intraspecific and Interspecific Competition | Logistic Growth | Lotka-Volterra Equations | Niche | resource limitation
Courses: Ecology
Chapter: Evolution for Ecology
Introduces evolution, natural selection, and selection and drift in quantitative traits, developed specifically for use in ecology classes. Uses examples with both basic and applied ecology interest, including sticklebacks and pest resistance to Bt cotton.
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Level: Intro, Sophomore/Junior
Key Concepts: Evolution | Natural Selection | population genetics
Courses: Ecology | Intro Bio: Eco/Evo/Genetics
Chapter: Predation, Herbivory and Parasitism
Introduces exploitative interactions between species. Includes classifications of each type of interaction and prey responses to exploitation, Lotka-Volterra predation equations, functional responses, and an exploration of the Red Queen hypothesis.
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Level: Sophomore/Junior
Key Concepts: Classifying Exploitative Interactions | Functional Responses | Lotka-Volterra Equations | Predator-prey dynamics | Red queen hypothesis
Courses: Ecology
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.
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Level: Intro, Sophomore/Junior
Key Concepts: Acid Rain | Carbon Cycle | Nitrogen Cycle | Phosphorus Cycle | watersheds
Courses: Ecology | Environmental Science
Chapter: Physiological Ecology
Uses a variety of different plant and animal examples to explore aspects of organism physiology that affect ecology. The chapter has a particular focus on temperature and water, with a discussion of how those two factors affect the types of plant communities seen around the globe, and a section on the heat and water balance equations. One section explores the difference between adaptation and acclimation in a physiological context. A final section discusses different types of photosynthesis, water balance, and heterotrophic ingestion.
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Level: Sophomore/Junior, Advanced
Key Concepts: Adaptation vs. Acclimation | Climate Diagrams | Heat and Water Balance Equations | Heterotrophic Metabolism | Law of the Minimum | potential evapotranspiration | transpiration and water potential | types of photosynthesis
Courses: Ecology
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.
View Sample Screen
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
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 (Tutorial): Cellular Respiration Explored
This intro-level lab introduces important processes involved in cellular respiration (e.g., energy storage and transfer, redox reactions) and then focuses on the cool but complex electron transport chain (ETC). Students directly manipulate the ETC with interactive simulations exploring how a proton gradient works, the role of each protein in the ETC, and the effects of perturbations such as low oxygen, cyanide, and diet drugs.
Level: Intro or Advanced
Key Concepts: drugs affecting respiration | electron transport chain | potential energy | redox | steps in respiration
Courses: Cell Biology | Intro Bio: Cell/Molecular | Intro Bio: Majors | Intro Bio: Molecular | Intro Bio: Non-majors | Physiology
Lab (Workbook): Hardy, Weinberg and Kuru
Uses Kuru disease in New Guinea to teach Hardy-Weinberg equilibrium. Students discover the equilibrium principle from their observations, and play with violating the assumptions to explore the mechanisms of evolution. Also see the effect of heterozygote advantage. Suitable for both intro bio and advanced courses.
View sample screen
Level: Intro or Advanced
Key Concepts: Hardy-Weinberg Equation | Punnett squares
Courses: Evolution | Hardy-Weinberg | Intro Bio: Eco/Evo/Genetics | Population Genetics
Lab (Tutorial): Mitosis Explored
We promise you have never seen a mitosis tutorial like Mitosis Explored. By integrating stunning live video from diverse organisms, interactive animations, and simulated experiments, Mitosis Explored smashes the "memorize the stages of mitosis" mold. This tutorial uses an inquiry-driven, self-guided approach to extend students' comprehension of the mechanics of this important (but challenging to learn) process. Students are able to tinker with the machinery that drives mitosis, solve puzzles, do experiments, and receive lots of instant feedback to check their own understanding. They also explore how mitosis relates to cancer and other diseases.

View Sample Screen

Level: Intro
Key Concepts: Cell Cycle | Cell Division | Mechanics of Mitosis | stages/phases of mitosis
Courses: Cell Biology | Intro Bio: Cell/Molecular | Intro Bio: Non-majors
Reviews:
"It was very easy to understand and VERY user friendly (compared to many virtual lab experiences that I have looked at). I especially liked the areas where you presented students with a disease (i.e., Roberts syndrome) or a drug (i.e. Taxol) that interrupted the process and then had students predict the outcomes or figure out what was being interrupted. "
Jamie Jensen, BYU
Lab (Tutorial): Meiosis Explored
Meiosis Explored offers a refreshing new approach to teach this fascinating and fundamental (but challenging to learn!) process. Using engaging simulated experiments, puzzles, dozens of instant-feedback questions, and illuminating animations and microscopy images, Meiosis Explored investigates the how and why of meiosis rather than focusing on memorization of stages and terminology. This tutorial uses an inquiry-driven, self-directed approach that guides students through the events that take place in meiosis and elucidates why they occur in a particular order. One section makes connections with genetics, focusing on how meiosis produces variation in offspring. Another section focuses on disorders that arise from meiotic errors. The tutorial helps students actually understand the differences and similarities between meiosis and mitosis (and works well with the accompanying Mitosis Explored tutorial).
Level: Intro
Key Concepts: Chromosomal Disorders | Crossing Over | Gamete Formation | Independent Segregation | Stages of meiosis
Courses: Cell Biology | Intro Bio: Cell/Molecular
Chapter: Biogeography

Covers large-scale and global patterns of biodiversity, and how these are related to landscapes. Includes coverage of air and water circulation, biomes, measures of diversity, species-area curves and island biogeography, paleoecology and geologic-time impacts on diversity. Topics are discussed in the context of how they inform conservation biology.


Table of Contents
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Level: Sophomore/Junior
Key Concepts: Biomes | Dispersal | Historical Biogeography | Island Biogeography | species diversity measures | species-area curves
Courses: Ecology
Lab (Workbook): Sickle-Cell Alleles Demo video available
An interactive simulation of the classic malaria and sickle-cell anemia system is used to explore natural selection and genetic drift. Students examine African villages with different malaria death rates. First they use the Hardy-Weinberg equation to calculate the expected proportion of sickle-cell carriers from HbS and HbA allele frequencies. Then they examine how the allele frequencies change with changes in malaria risk and with different "founder" scenarios. Finally they explore genetic drift without selection by looking at different-sized villages where both diseases have been cured. An optional advanced section allows independent exploration of evolutionary forces using a basic population genetics model with adjustable parameters for selection strength, immigration rate, and population size. This is one of our most popular labs for introductory biology courses.
View sample screen
Level: Intro
Key Concepts: Genetic Drift | Hardy-Weinberg Equation | Natural Selection
Courses: Evolution | Hardy-Weinberg | Intro Bio: Eco/Evo/Genetics | Intro Bio: Non-majors | Population Genetics
Reviews:
"We used the Sickle-Cell EcoBeaker™ lab with all 1100 freshman enrolled in our majors biology course in the fall of 2003. The results truly impressed me — I felt like the students had a much stronger grasp of Hardy-Weinberg theory as a result of this interactive exercise and exam scores went up as well. "
Dr. Linda Walters, Central Florida University, Majors Introductory Biology
"I had great success using your EcoBeaker™ labs, Keystone Predator and Sickle-Cell Alleles, in my BIO102 General Biology II class (4 lab sections, 96 students) this spring semester. "
Dr. Daniel Vogt, Plattsburgh State University, General Biology
"This is just a quick email to let you know that the Sickle-cell lab went very well last week!! The TAs thought it went very well and the feedback from number of students I spoke to was also very positive. ...I was very pleased to be able to introduce this topic into a compulsory course here at the Technion in a Faculty that has major emphasis on molecular biology and less on populations, ecology and evolution."
Dr. Debbie Lindell, Technion, Israel
Lab (Workbook): How the Guppy Got Its Spots
Recreate Endler's famous studies of guppy spot brightness in different streams in Trinidad. Students observe the pattern of spot brightness across several pools, then apply classic experimental techniques such as transplants, removals, and behavioral studies to uncover the mechanisms behind the pattern.
View sample screen
Level: Advanced
Key Concepts: Experimental Design | Natural Selection | Sexual selection
Courses: Evolution | Microevolution
Reviews:
"The guppies lab was a big hit, and I think the chance to design and test hypotheses is suitable for students at all levels. ...I am very happy with your software."
Dr. Maarten Vonhof, Western Michigan University
Lab (Workbook): Osmosis
This popular lab explores osmosis by letting students visualize molecules moving inside a cell and across the cell's membrane. Their ultimate challenge is to use what they learn about osmosis to compose an intravenous fluid that will not cause red blood cells to expand or shrink. In the course of the lab, students explore osmosis with no, one, two, and many solutes. In the process of exploring the underlying molecular mechanisms of osmosis and osmotic pressure, students manipulate concentrations and conduct experiments to investigate what is meant by "dynamic equilibrium" and throughout the lab use quantitative reasoning to predict experimental outcomes. See our Research page to read how this lab has successfully conquered misconceptions! [One caveat: students who have trouble with ratios may need assistance.]
Key Concepts: Equilibrium | Osmosis | Overcoming Common Misconceptions
Courses: Intro Bio: Molecular | Intro Bio: Non-majors | Osmosis-Diffusion
Reviews:
"The students loved the [OsmoBeaker] simulations and I thought they got more out of them than even they did."
Heather Dietz, University of Regina
Lab (Workbook): Diffusion
This lab confronts common misconceptions about diffusion using engaging simulated molecular-level experiments. The lab first focuses on how individual molecules move under different conditions. It then sets up a fun experiment that allows students to explore whether nerve cells could use diffusion to move materials from the cell body to the synapses at the tips of their axons. Students run races in axons of different lengths and record how long it takes for "peptide" molecules to diffuse down their length. A new concluding exercise explores diffusion in plant leaves, asking whether CO2 molecules that start among high concentrations of other CO2 molecules move faster than CO2 molecules that start among high concentrations of water molecules. By the end of the lab, students not only discover the need for cellular and organ level transport mechanisms, but also overcome some commonly held misconceptions (see our Research page for details).
Level: Intro
Key Concepts: Diffusion | Overcoming Common Misconceptions | Randomness
Courses: Intro Bio: Molecular | Intro Bio: Non-majors | Osmosis-Diffusion
Reviews:
"The students loved the [OsmoBeaker] simulations and I thought they got more out of them than even they did."
Heather Dietz, University of Regina
Lab (Workbook): Patchy Prairies (formerly Butterflies)
Using a simulation of a population of Fender's blue butterfly, an endangered species that is endemic to western Oregon (USA) prairies, students are challenged to propose and justify (based on their own data) a habitat restoration scheme that will maximize survivorship of butterflies, given pre-existing patches of prairie. Students first learn about edge effects and how landscape features such as corridors and stepping stones might affect population survival. They then explore how using models (e.g., conducting sensitivity analyses) can help guide research. Improvements to this lab were suggested by users of previous versions, which have been very popular both with instructors and students.
View sample screen
Level: Intro or Advanced
Key Concepts: Habitat Restoration | Metapopulations | Patchiness | Reserve design
Courses: Applied Ecology | Conservation Biology | Ecology | Intro Bio: Eco/Evo/Genetics | Population Biology
Reviews:
"It was easy to modify the final assignment to make it either more or less intensive as desired."
Cindy Bennington, Stetson University
"The students seemed to appreciate the realism of the simulation. It substituted well for a live lab without the students necessarily missing not going on into the field."
Bryan Dewsbury, Florida International University
"The class discussion [about Patchy Prairies] this morning was successful. Students ... thought it was easy to learn, and took away the major points I hoped they would."
Laura Jackson, University of Northern Iowa
Lab (Workbook): Evolutionary Evidence Demo video available
A powerful lab for introducing students to the evidence that convinces biologists that life on earth evolved. It covers a key piece of evidence for evolutionary theory, focusing on how related species should have nested sets of traits that reflect their evolutionary tree. Students compare traits of evolved species versus traits of independently created species and learn how to quantify the difference. They then use this quantification to predict the order that traits should appear in the fossil record among different species of simulated lizards. Finally, they apply their methods to the real fossil record for a set of 7 extant species.
View sample screen
Level: Intro
Key Concepts: Common Ancestor | Evidence | Evolution | Fossils | Nested Sets | phylogenetics | theory
Courses: Evolution | Intro Bio: Eco/Evo/Genetics | Intro Bio: Non-majors
Lab (Tutorial): Mendelian Pigs
This lab connects basic Mendelian genetics to basic population genetics using variation in coat color of pigs, a well-understood trait. Students first conduct crosses to determine the relationships between four different coat color alleles. They are also introduced to the molecular basis for the different alleles and how that leads to their genetics. Then students must use this system to answer population-level questions such as "will a dominant allele always increase in frequency over a recessive allele?". Along the way, they are also introduced to the Hardy-Weinberg equation and why it is useful. This lab was built as part of a larger NSF-funded research project into student misconceptions in genetics and evolution.
View Sample Screen
Level: Intro, Sophomore/Junior
Key Concepts: Allele | Dominance | Hardy-Weinberg Equilibrium | Mendelian Crosses | Mendelian Genetics | Mutation | population genetics | recessive
Courses: Evolution | Genetics | Intro Bio: Majors | Intro Bio: Non-majors
Chapter: Decomposition

Decomposition uses data from the LTER network, as well as from human forensics, to explore how life after death impacts ecological systems. Includes sections on the decomposer community, litter quality, environmental effects on decomposition rates, and interactions between decomposition and climate.

Table of Contents
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Level: Sophomore/Junior
Key Concepts: Anaerobic vs. Aerobic Decomposition | Decomposer Classification | Decomposition Rate | Decomposition Triangle | Litter Quality
Courses: Ecology
Lab (Workbook): Flowers and Trees
Introduces students to evolutionary trees using an interactive simulation of Columbine flower diversification. Students observe Columbine populations split and diverge while an expanding evolutionary tree illustrates each population's history. Students further learn to interpret evolutionary trees by creating their own and reconstructing the history of mystery populations. Suitable for both introductory and advanced biology and evolution courses.
View sample screen
Level: Intro or Advanced
Key Concepts: Evolutionary Trees | Neutral Evolution | Phylogenetic Reconstruction | Tree-thinking
Courses: Evolution | Intro Bio: Eco/Evo/Genetics | Intro Bio: Non-majors | Macroevolution
Reviews:
"I did tell you that I like EvoBeaker very much.  The programs compliment each other really well and I'd love to work with several of them that highlight common ancestor, but I am limited in the time I have. I am going to try to fit in two of them, near the end of the semester.  I think 'Flowers and Trees' with its phylogenetic trees and either Dogs or HIV, to get the sequence comparisons. "
Dr. Robert Hodson, University of Delaware, 600 Student Introductory Biology Class
"I was very impressed with the lab exercises when I ran through them last night — they are not only fun, but move seamlessly through the logic of building cladograms. I will definitely incorporate the lab into my future classes. "
Dr. Robin Andrews, Virginia Tech University
"I just wanted to let you know that we've completed our first lab of the three as of yesterday [Flowers and Trees]. The students thought it was "easy" and yet, were challenged as they continued to work through the exercises. It was not only promising, but reinvigorating for the Teaching Assistants who had taught it prior to this semester. Thank you!! We're looking forward to completing the next one soon."
Dr. Faye Farmer, Arizona State University, Introductory Biology Course
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

"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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