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Virtual Field Trip

A virtual ecology curriculum modeled after our Ecology Field Program, designed for 5th graders.


The following ecology video lesson series provides a virtual alternative to our in-person Ecology Field Program, designed for New Mexico 5th graders and aligned to Next Generation Science Standards.

These lessons go in-depth on topics including the abiotic and biotic parts of an ecosystem, producers, consumers, and decomposers; scat, skulls, leaves, ecosystem change, decomposition, and soil. Each lesson ends with a hands-on activity for students to do at home or in the classroom. 

Ecology Lesson Plans

Access Virtual Field Trip lesson plans detailing activities to complete alongside each video lesson, aligned to Next Generation Science Standards. Lesson plans are provided in web and accessible pdf formats.

Video Lessons

Watch the video lessons embedded below or on the YouTube playlist for an complete Virtual Ecology Field Program about ecosystems, their components, connections, and a comprehensive variety of topics regarding the non-living parts, plants, animals, and decomposers present in ecosystems in central New Mexico. Each video lesson is accompanied by at least one hands-on activity or project.

Lesson 1 - Ecosystems: Biotic/Abiotic

This is the first segment of a virtual field trip to the Sandia Mountains and takes place at one of our outdoor classrooms. In this video, students will learn every part of an ecosystem is either biotic or abiotic.

Lesson 1 Video Transcript

Hey boys and girls. My name is Steven. Vince is behind the camera there. We're from the Sandia Mountain National History Center. What we're gonna do today is learn about ecosystems.

So, if you have a paper already printed, or if you have a blank piece of paper, what I'd like you to do is just write the title "Ecosystems" up at the top. Eco-systems. I want you to look at that word for just a second and figure out what the word inside that word is.

Did you think of systems? We're gonna focus just on that for a second- "system". We use systems all the time, and we're part of a system- many systems, and there are many systems in nature as well. Think for a couple seconds about other systems you either use at home, for school, for fun, or systems that you know about already that's, uh, in nature.

That, if you have just eaten, you might be using one of those systems right now- the digestive system. So, when you eat, what's the first thing you do? Put the food in your mouth, and you chew. Are those teeth kind of helping out your digestive system?

Yeah, they're the first part. And then the juice in there, sal-.. saliva, kind of softens the food up, and when it's ready you swallow.

What's that food tube called? Your... esophagus. As a travels down your esophagus, obviously it's gonna go into your stomach, and you have more juices in there. Acids that works on your digestion, travels through your intestines, and obviously you're gonna poop it out sometime, right?

So, that system is not just one part. There's a whole bunch of parts in it. I don't know how many off-hand, but there's more than one, right? So think about this. What is shining on me right now? The sun. Is there a system that the sun is part of?

Yeah, the solar system. No matter where you are in the universe or the galaxy, there will always be at least one of those suns in the middle of it. Now, what orbits the sun? Planets. And what can orbit a planet? A moon. And the pieces of rock up there... asteroids.

What holds it all together? Gravity. So, all those parts- the sun, or suns, the planets, the moons, the asteroids, and the gravity, are all parts of that system. Those parts together work as a whole.

Last system. What am I doing? [typing sounds] Typing, on a... keyboard. So what kind of system are we talking about? Computer system. We look at a... screen. What's this? Mouse. And then, not every time, but lots of times, how's everything connected to each other? Cords, or wires.

Again, not just one part, but a.. whole bunch. There's a word I want you to think about. It means more than one, not a few, not many, but it does start with "M". Here's a symbol for the math function. Multiply, multiple. So there's multiple parts. Every system has multiple parts. So what we're gonna do, since we're talking about ecosystems, is first, on your paper, draw a big "T", just like that.

So what we have right now is a T-chart, or at least the beginning of a T-chart. How many groups are we gonna have? Two. So, what we're gonna do is we're gonna zoom back in a second so that you can see what's kind of around me and behind me.

Or you can go to a window and look out the window wherever you're at, and if there's a natural area- trees or plants or something like that outside your window, you can do that too.

So if it's.. go ahead, zoom out so we can look at everything. So you should be able to see all this stuff around me, maybe even some stuff on the ground, and if you can like I said, go to a window too. You can check things out that way as well.

And what you're gonna do is look for anything that's a natural thing. So, is a car out your window gonna count? Uh-uh. Is a sidewalk? No, no we're not gonna count the sidewalk. Just the stuff like you might see around here.

The stuff on the ground, the stuff up here there's growing, natural things. So for about 10 seconds or so I want you to do that. Did you notice a few things? Alright. I did. So what we're gonna do... We are going to list those things and make our two groups. And then after we have a few things on each side, we're gonna figure out what we should call those things.

Maybe you can figure it out before I help you out, when you see a pattern happening. So, right behind me. What is this thing? It's a tree. Now that tree has these things on there. Here's some short ones from one kind of a tree.

Here's some long ones from another one that's like that tree but a little bit different. What are these? Needles. What kind of tree did they come from? Pine tree. On the right side here, I would like you to write "pine tree".

What else did we see? The ground? Well, what's on the ground? Around here there's a whole bunch of these rocks. This kind of rock has an orangish color to it. This kind of rock is called sandstone. Sandstone is gonna go on the other side. So let's write "sandstone".

Maybe wherever you are, you might have looked out a window and seen the green stuff on the ground. What's that? Yeah, it's grass. What side do you think grass is gonna go on? The rock side or the tree side? What's it most like? Yeah, a tree.

So let's go ahead and put grass with the pine tree. I don't know if you can hear them. I hear some things up in the sky. [cawing in the distance] We might see them down in town. They make like a "raw raw raw" sound. They're black. And they fly. They're kind of big. Crows.

Now, crows are not like trees. They're not like grass. They're definitely not like a rock, but what side are they most like? What do they have most in common with? Plants or rocks? I hope you said plants. So, let's put "crows", since that's what we're listening to.

Alright, one last, not one last thing but almost. Take a breath in. What did you breathe in? Air. What do you think? Is air like trees and birds, or is it like rock? It's kind of like none of those things, right? But it does have something in common with one of these things.

Because I said one thing, you might look at the side that has just one thing. So yes. Air is gonna go on the side with sandstone. Alright. Now, let me ask you... can rocks ever be alive? No. Could air ever be alive? No. Do living things need air? Yeah, like we just did, we breathed, right?

How about a pine tree? Can it be alive? Of course. Grass? Yes. Crows? Yes. That is a big difference between these two sides, isn't it? Now I'm gonna have you think of something. This, what is this thing? A branch, right? Is it alive, or is it dead? It's dead!

Now, see if that'll stand up right there. Perfect. What side is that dead branch gonna go on? These things that have never been alive, or these things at are alive? These things that are not alive right now? These things that are growing? It's gonna go on the side with the trees and the bird. So, lets write "dead branch".

Now, that branch is dead. Why did it go on the side with things that are alive? This is why. There's only one way that this branch could have ever gotten here on Earth, and that's by doing what at the very beginning? Seed falls, it starts to... grow. It grows big, turns into a tree, branch breaks off for some reason, the branch dies.

So, because that branch used to be alive, that's why it's going on this side with the trees and the grass and the birds. Now we have to figure out what to call these two things. Things that are not alive, things that are alive but can also be dead. I'm gonna write three letters right here: B I O. That's not all of it yet, but that's the beginning of it.

What does "bio" mean? "Bio" is in a lot of words. There's a scientist, certain kind of scientist, they're called biologists. Starts with B I O. Do you know what they learn about, what they study? Yeah, living things. Animals, plants, little tiny cells.

How about a biography? It's a story, but what's it about? Is it true, or is it fiction? Is it fiction or nonfiction? It's nonfiction, which means it's real life, and it's about a person's life. So here we have biologists that study life, a biography is a story about a person's life.

These things are all alive, or they used to be. So, in an ecosystem, things that are alive or dead, like the trees growing or the dead branch, are called biotic. These things here, the air and the sandstone, they can never ever be alive. We're gonna call them almost the same, but with one letter difference- Abiotic.

That "A" in abiotic, it just means "not". Not biotic. They can never be alive, or they can never be dead. So, next thing. This is what you guys can do at home, or wherever you are, on your own or with a grown-up. Keep this list that we've been making... but I want you to-, I want to challenge you to get 10, at least 10 new things, on your list.

It doesn't matter if you have three more abiotic things, or seven biotic things, or one and nine, you just need ten altogether. So with your grown-up's permission, you're gonna go outside.

Maybe you can go around your house wherever you are, if, uh, there's too much traffic or something outside. Look for as many biotic things as you can, things that have been alive, maybe.

Go to your kitchen. I'm sure there's some things in there that you can find. And then other things that are abiotic, things that can never be alive. Alright, so, get those ten new things, and we'll see you next time for an expanded new version of this.

Lesson 2 - Ecosystems: Producers, Consumers, Decomposers

During this second segment, students continue to learn what composes an ecosystem, now focusing mainly on the biotic elements: producers, consumers and decomposers.

Lesson 2 Video Transcript

Hey, boys and girls. Steven and Vince back there from the Sandia Mountain Natural History Center. Um we're here to do the next part of our lesson. If you remember last time, we made a T chart on this board.

We had two names for those categories. One was Abiotic, the other one was biotic. If you remember and you can always look back on your other T chart, abiotic things in an ecosystem are like a rock something that can never be alive which means that it can also never do something else.

Can never die. So, abiotic things, things that can never be alive which means they never die. The other side which was over here was biotic. Like pine needles. They are biotic or a branch. It is biotic even though this one's dead. So remember the biotic things in ecosystems are the things that are alive and are also possibly dead. So what we're going to do this time is make that bigger.

We're going to put it into four groups. One of the groups is be the same. So, I want you to look on your T chart if you have it available. Which one of those groups that you listed things for, biotic or abiotic, was the smaller? Which one didn't have very much stuff in it? For me, it's always the abiotic. So, we're going to start off by making a four-square chart and the first thing we're going to put in it is abiotic again but that's the only time we'll see a repeat. So, up here, right? Abiotic.

And again, that A in Abiotic means not. So, it just means not biotic. So, this is the not biotic stuff. Now, I'd like you to spell the word Saws, S A W S. It's just an acronym, a word that's spelled made with the first letters as some other words.

It helps us remember the abiotic stuff in an ecosystem. Now, We have to think of things that are abiotic, not alive, not dead that start with an S, an A, or a W. One of them we had on our T chart before. One of the other things on our T chart could fit in one of these groups. It's part of it. So, let's just go down the row starting with an S. What am I standing on? If you're indoors, you're not standing on it most likely. If you're outside, quite possibly you are. It's the ground. So, I'm not standing on a sidewalk here.

Sidewalk wouldn't count for this. What kind of stuff? Do I have some up here? No. No. If you can see, what is this? Probably saw it. This looks like dirt, right? There's another word that we can use for dirt. Sometimes we think about it when we're going to start a garden. Yeah, soil. So soil, when we're talking about it today as far as being abiotic, it's the dirt, the rocks like the sandstone that we wrote up there before. Clay comes from the soil and then of course sand, all that kind of stuff. Not the dead stuff in there just yet, but just the the dirts and the rocks. That A.

If you remember from the other lesson, I had you guys take a deep breath in. Remember what it was? Yeah, air. Air is not alive. There's life in the air. I'm in the air. Birds fly through the air but the air itself is not alive which means it can also never die. A W. We don't see any right now. I don't see any. Oh, I do see some floating by up there. Obviously, I'm talking about clouds. Think about what clouds are made of. Think about what's in the tres right now. Why are these trees living? Think about what their roots absorb in the soil.

When it flows, sometimes it wears away, it erodes the ground, yeah, water. Now, water doesn't just have to be liquid. When it snows, that's water. When it hails, that's water. If it's foggy, that's water too. So, we can call it precipitation. We can call water precipitation as well. We got that last S. Oh, we're just now being able to see a change on the board.

It's not all in the shadow. We have these light spots. Yes, sunlight. Sunlight is abiotic. The important thing though that we're going to talk about is the light. What is light? Light is energy. So, what I'd like you to do is draw a wavy arrow like this into the next box. There's going to be a few wavy arrows like that on this box. It will always mean the same thing and that's energy. It won't always be light energy but it will be energy because the only time it's light energy is right now from the sunlight.

Now, it's starting to shine, that sunlight, it's starting to shine on the trees around me. What's happening there? Why is that a big deal? Well, yeah, because trees can do something with that sunlight just like all plants. It can take it and change it into its food. It needs other things like carbon dioxide and water too but the only form of energy that we're dealing with right there is the light. So, this next box is going to be the things in an ecosystem that need that sunlight to make their food. Obviously, those are the trees, the plants. So, this box, we're not going to write plants. We're going to write a longer word. That word is producers.

Think about what it means to produce something. If a factory produces cars, what are they doing? They're, that's right, they're making cars. So, plants are producers because they are making their own food. They don't have to go out and get it. They make it with that sunlight.

When you are looking for things whether it was in your house or apartment or if you got to go to the park or your backyard or front yard wherever, you probably saw some things that we could write in this producer box. If you saw a plant, you saw a producer. Remember these pine needles that I held up? There's two different kinds. This long one. This one was from a a ponderosa pine. The shorter ones. Those are from a piñon pine.

Because we have, see if I can pull this branch down. Can you see that branch right there? That's part of a piñon pine. Piñon pines are right there. Let's go ahead and write down piñon pine in this box. They are a very important tree in this ecosystem. Oops, They're very important tree in this ecosystem because there are so many of them.

What do pine trees grow off of their branches besides the needles? Yeah, the pine cones. Here's a pine cone. They don't just make 'em like this for no reason. There's a specific reason. What goes inside these little spots? The seeds. So, the purpose of all pine cones is to make seeds. Do you think all those seeds grow? Some of them do. Some of them don't do anything. They just end up dying. Some of them might get what? Yeah, they might get eaten.

Alright, another plant, another producer. Um Let's see. Can you see any more producers behind me? Vince, can you zoom out a little bit? Do you see anything else? Well, one other one we wrote down yesterday, and it's another important one, was the other kind of tree. Has little berries on it a lot of times, the grayish-blue berries. It's called a juniper. Let's write that one down again because that was so important. Juniper trees. They don't grow pine cones on em. They grow the little berries and like we talked about inside the berries is a little, yeah, seed. So, same story as the piñon seeds.

Those berries, some of 'em grow new trees. Some of 'em just die. They don't do anything. Some of 'em get eaten and if those seeds get crunched up, yeah, no seed, no trees going to grow there. Okay. So, a couple times, I talked about things eating those seeds. What is eating those seeds or anything else in the ecosystem? Animals. Because animals eat, we're going to call them something else. Just like we use producers for plants, we're going to use this word: consumers.

To consume can mean to eat. Consumers in an ecosystem are the eaters. That's how they get their energy. So, we need to add something from the producers going down to the consumers. What do we need to add? That energy arrow. Wavy arrow down here. The producers, the plants, take this in light, change it into the food that they use, but then also consumers can use the food that the producers create and eat it to get their energy. Did you guys see any consumers or animals when you're out looking for stuff? Consumers don't just have to be like a furry animal or a scaly animal like a lizard or snake. They can be bugs. They can be spiders. They can have feathers. You can, if you have a fish tank, they can be fish. Anything that has a mouth and eats is a consumer.

So, around here, we see them sometimes. We see other animals sometimes. We see their evidence though a lot more. What kind of evidence could say a deer leave behind as it walks through the forest? Yeah, it leave its tracks and we saw some yesterday. It could leave, well, if it ate a few hours ago, what's it going to need to do later? Yeah, it's going to have the poop, right? So, we can find deer scat out here in the forest and if you know, deer scat or any animal scat just refers to their poop. It's a word that we use when we do science outdoors and we talk about animals.

Let's go ahead and write down deer. Now, again, I didn't see the deer, but I saw their evidence, their tracks, and their scat. That's why I can write it down. And what do deer eat? Yeah, they just eat plants, leaves, maybe grass, things like that. What do you call that kind of animal that just eats plants? Herbivore, that's right, so deer are herbivores. Now what is an animal that might like to hunt that deer and all it eats is meat? You're right, it's called a carnivore, but what kind of animal--I'm going to lead you into a certain direction--you wouldn't want to be here by yourself if you saw that animal face to face.

Animal's pretty long and then it has a long tail, really sharp teeth. Yeah, mountain lion. Let's write down mountain lion? Mtn for mountain, and then lion. Like we just discussed, mountain lions just eat meat. They are a carnivore. They don't have any choice and where's it's getting, where is it getting its energy? Straight from the deer meat. Now, remember the evidence that I talked about that I could use to say that we have deer here? Their tracks and their scat. We do get evidence of mountain lions too.

Couple times we found some dead deer that the mountain lions have killed. Couple times we've gotten their tracks. Few times their scat. We have herbivores, carnivores. What's the other -ivore? Om...omnivore. What is a really big animal that's an omnivore that lives in the mountains? Yeah, bears. Every once in a while, we might see a bear. We might get a picture of a bear on our wildlife cameras out in the forest. And we find their scat a lot. Sometimes their footprints, but really their scat. You know, bears eat whatever they can find basically.

So, they are an omnivore. We need something to happen here. We had to have an empty box. Deer, they leave, uh, after the mountain lions hunt them, they don't eat everything so that we're going to have a carcass sometimes. But it doesn't stay there forever and a carcass is a dead animal. The plants that die. Trees fall over. They don't stay there forever. What happens to these things? What happens to the dead animals, to dead plants? Yeah, they, they rot, right? But there's another word that we're going to use. We're going to use this word. It's kind of a long one. Dead things de-com-pose, and the things that do that to those dead things are decomposers.

Just like consumers consume, producers produce. What kind of decomposers are out there in the forest? They can't be an animal. They cannot have a mouth because only consumers do. I'll give you a clue. One kind starts with an F. Another kind starts with a B. The one that starts with an F. We can eat some of them. Yeah, fungi. Two kinds of fungi. One kind I just mentioned we can eat. You know what it is. That's right. Mushrooms. Mushrooms. The other kind we might find on an old sandwich that you left in your lunch box for a month. Yeah, mold. We see mold all the time. Mold on old food. Mold on old beans, old bread, that kind of thing. So what's happening to that stuff? It's getting decomposed. These guys, the ones that start with the B. We can't see 'em usually unless we have microscopes.

Yeah, bacteria. Generally, usually, the fungi decompose the dead plants. The bacteria decompose dead animal stuff. Why do they do it? Why do they decompose? Not to clean up the forest for sure. That's not their job. They need something. What are these arrows? Energy. That's right. Decomposers whether it's mushroom, mold, or whatever, they need energy. Energy from dead animals or consumers. Energy from dead producers, plants. It's getting kind of messy. So, decomposers get their energy from dead stuff. Plants and animals that have died.

Consumers, get their energy from two places, either straight from the producers or from other consumers by eating them. Producers, get their energy straight from something that's 96 million miles away, the sun. That's right. So, what is the starter of all of the energy for life on Earth? Yeah, the sun. So, all living things. They need energy. All living things can get their energy from different places. That is one way to organize the things that we can find in the ecosystem.

The abiotic stuff and the biotic stuff. Alright, boys and girls, what I'd like you to do with your chart at home, again, just like you did with the T chart, look around your house, your yard, park, with your adult's permission, and see if you can add more things to these producers to the producer section, to the consumer section, and possibly to the decomposer section. Alright, we'll see you next time.


Lesson 3 - Scat

While hiking the trails of the Sandia Mountains, we often discover animal (consumer) evidence. In this third video we examine a variety of animal scat samples to learn about our "neighbears" and other mountain friends.

Lesson 3 Video Transcript

Hey boys and girls. Here we are in the Sandia Mountains. Around us, there's a bunch of Piñon pines when we look up. On the ground, there's a bunch of these dead leaves. These are from oak trees. We're in the middle of a whole bunch of them. It's still a little early for them to green up. So most of them don't have their leaves on yet. We're gonna talk about food and bears. So the bears, they're here.

How do we know they're here? Well, we find their evidence. And why are they here? Well, animals are only gonna live some place that they can get food, right? So what is their food? Well, let's talk a little bit about that. Like I said a second ago, there's Piñon trees above us. There's Oak trees around us. Here's the leaves from those Oak trees. Is the same food around all the time for the bears?

No, they have to eat whatever's available. So let's start off in the spring, when bears first start coming around here. In the springtime, there's a lot of new little leafy growth. That's a lot of what they eat. Later on in the spring though, maybe in may, when it starts to get warmer, there's a weird plant called bear corn. Here's an example of some dead bear corn. So bear corn isn't normally brown.

When it's fresh, it's yellow. In fact, it almost looks like a corn cob coming out of the ground. There's a corn part of the name. And then we know, I just said, bears like to eat it, there's a bear part. Bear corn. When they are eating the bear corn, they are Chewing up and swallow these little tiny berries. There's not a lot to see. They're tiny. Even tinier though are the seeds. Super tiny, they just look like little speckles. So if the bear is really chewing up the soft parts of this, is it gonna chew up and grind up, crunch up those seeds? It just swallows 'em. So where do you think we see those seeds later on?

Yeah, we see 'em in their scat. Now moving into the summer, they'll still eat the bear corn a little bit in the summer, but then they might start going after some other berries. Have you ever seen prickly pear cactus? They have those pink berries on them, cactus fruit. They like to eat those. And guess what?

We see in their scat after they've been eating those. Not the soft squishy part of the fruit. That's right, the seeds. We see the seeds of that cactus fruit in there. Moving into the fall. There still might be some cactus fruit around, but then that's when Piñon nuts or Piñones are available. So the pine tree seeds. Here's a bunch of Piñon pine. Pine cones. They're real tiny. And the seeds are in there.

We talked about that before at the very beginning of one of our other lessons. So the seeds are in the pine cones. They'll eat those seeds cause they're abundant. Sometimes though, when a bear is not very careful about when it's eating, it'll just crunch everything up if it sniffs something good. It just chews up an entire pine cone.

Now, when that bear swallows the pine cone bits, these hard little Woody parts, is that gonna digest? No. It'll show up in their poop, right? Or they're scat. How about the Piñon seeds? Well, when we eat a sunflower seed, usually we don't eat the whole thing, right? We might break it open and eat the inside. The inside is what we call the meat of the seed. So that's what gets digested. When bears eat the Piñon seeds, like I said, they crunch the whole thing up, their stomach digests the good part inside. But the shell is like wood. So where does that end up? That's right. It ends up in their scat, and then we can see it. Acorns, the seed from oak trees, they do the same thing.

They'll eat the whole thing, and then the bits of the shell of the acorn, and the little hat on the acorn? Those don't always digest. So we'll see bits of those in there as well. So remember, the only things that we can see in the animal scat, in the bear scat for right now, is the stuff that cannot get digested. So bits of shells, bits of sticks maybe, cause sometimes their big tongue pulls up a stick from the ground, and the seeds that don't get chewed up.

Now, I said that we see those things in their scat, so what do you think I have that I'm gonna show you? Yeah. I have a bunch of preserved, preserved mean saved. It's covered bear scat. This one, this one's cool. Just because it's so big. See how it's kind of shiny. The reason why it's shiny is from the plasticy stuff that we put over it to preserve it. That way I can touch it and it's not yucky. I can see a bunch of little tiny seeds. Here's another one. Also has the seeds in there. Whole bunch of little tiny ones and there's even a stick right here.

So that bear wasn't too careful. It's big bear tongue pulled up the stick along with the other plant that it was trying to eat. Do you remember the plant that I mentioned grows in the springtime and it has real tiny little seeds they're like little speckles? It's kinda like this? Bear corn. That's right. Bear corn. This bear was eating bear corn. We know because we see seeds loaded in this scat. We can also learn something else when we find this. Do you remember the season that I said bear corn grows? That's right. It grows in the Spring. The bear was eating bear corn and it was here in the Spring. All right. How about this one? I see a whole bunch of little round seeds.

There was a tree I mentioned in one of our first lessons in the introduction that had little bluish gray berries. Inside the berry, like with all berries and fruits, there's a seed. We can see the seeds, like I said. They are Juniper seeds. So what was this bear eating? That's right. Juniper berries. Now the Juniper, they're around in the summer and the Fall. Mostly the Fall. So what was the bear eating? The Juniper berries. When was it here? Probably in the Fall. Here's a couple pieces. They're kind of solid lithium. There's a whole bunch of ground up bits of shell in there. Do you remember what kind of bear food I mentioned that has shells? Comes from the pine trees? That's right.

The pine nuts or the Piñones. The type of seed or nut that comes out of the pine cones. Now what season did I say that they are available? Mostly in the Fall. So this bear or bears, they probably aren't from the same bear, was around in the Fall, and it was eating? That's right. Pine nuts. Sometimes bears will eat things that's not really food. What do you think I mean by that? It might smell like food, but it is not food. Did you guess trash? Guess what we have evidence of?

That's right. Bear's eating trash. Here's a piece of bear scat that has bear corn seeds in it. But you see these kind of white things in there? Those are pieces of plastic bag. Just like this. Like we get at the grocery store. Why did it eat it? It probably smelled like food. So one reason that we always make sure to pack out our trash or to make sure that it's thrown away when we're in the forest.

So boys and girls, with the scat, we can learn if you know what it looks like, what kind of animal it comes from, what it's been eating, as well as when it was here, or when the bear was wherever you went hiking. So lots of things to learn when we find an animal scat. And in a minute, we are going to make our own scat. Hey boys and girls. We're here in the lab. So the first thing that we're gonna do is show you some examples of more scat. We saw some bear scat just a minute ago in the forest, but now we have a bunch more animals.

So let's go over here and look at it. All right. So the first scat we're gonna look at right here is Turkey scat. You'll notice that they kinda look different from one another. There's these either curly cues and long ones, or these kind of blobby ones. That tells us that we have male turkeys and female turkeys. Their scat looks different. Turkeys eat mostly bugs and seeds, things that are on the ground, whatever they can find us down low. Next one is pack rats scat. Pack rats are rodents, just like regular rats and mice.

You might have seen mouse poop or rat poop. It looks very much like this. Mouse scat is much smaller. It looks kind of like rice grains, but this is a larger animal. Pack rats are herbivores. They eat seeds and other berries and things like that. So in the pack rat scat, before I move it, if this pack rat ate a seed that had a hard shell around it, if you remember about the bear scat, the inside will digest, but the shell is likely not to. Next. We have rabbit.

You might have seen rabbit scat before as well. That's about the size of peas. And rabbits, like pack rats, are herbivores. They'll eat grasses and leaves, things like that. And in the scat, you might be able to see little pieces of grass. So some parts of the grass like the stalk, just doesn't digest very well. So that's what we're left with Next. A much bigger herbivore. Deer. So say, almost the same size, slightly different color from one to the other. This one's kind of in the middle. When rabbits poop, they basically leave a few little scattered pea-sized poop balls, but the deer has a slightly different shape and they leave the big pile. Again, you might be able to see little bits of grass pieces in there that did not digest. Now, after herbivores, we're gonna move into the omnivores. Coyotes. Coyote scat. This one has fur in it. That's why it has these little kind of points in there. It's like the fur is kind of brought to a point. This one, there's actually a piece of acorn down here so that it looked like it swallowed it whole.

And there's some other things. There might be some other fur in there as well. So again, coyotes are omnivores. They eat pretty much whatever they can find that looks good to them. Animals and plants. Raccoons. Raccoons are omnivores as well. This raccoon was not from around here. This raccoon lived someplace where there is water. We know that for two reasons. One is that's where we found it. But two, these things in here that look like pieces of bone, it's actually from crayfish. Some people call them crawfish. Some people call them crawdads. They look kinda like a little lobster in a way. They live in fresh water. So bits of the shell looks like some leg parts, probably part of the abdomen part, the chest or back or something like that. So raccoons, omnivores eat whatever. So we had herbivores, we had omnivores, were missing the meat eater. The carnivore. We have some Bobcat scat. So Bobcats, smaller than mountain lions.

They have a little short stubby tail. Again, we have this little pointy part, has some fur in there. I can see some other bit to fur, but this is the shape that Bobcat scat will have. I'm gonna show you a few things that you need to gather up first. You don't need exactly the same thing, but some similar things. First of all, you get a couple containers like this. You'll also need, if you use mud, some dirt. So you can go outside someplace with your parent or your adult's permission, scoop up some dirt. And of course, to make mud, not only do you need dirt, but you'll need some water as well.

All right. Now, if you don't use dirt to make mud, you can use oatmeal. The thing with the oatmeal though, you'll have to break it up a little bit, cause it makes it into kind of like a clay if you crunch it up and then let it sit in the water. But I'll explain that later. If you have instant oatmeal, that'll work too. If you have clay, of course, clay would be great or any kind of dough. If you can make some dough out of flour, that will work fine as well. Now, that's the kind of poopy part of the scat.

Remember, some of the scat items that we saw had stuff in it that did not digest. Like maybe grass, especially dead grass. The green grass, that'll probably digest pretty well. But this dead stuff? Not so much. So if you use this, you can break it up. Same thing with little leaf bits and you can crunch up the leaf bits and we'll mix those in there. If there happens to be any pine cones around your house, breaking some of these little bits off and putting it in there. And I doubt you're gonna have deer fur laying around the house, but you might have a hair brush. Maybe you have a cat or dog that you can comb a little bit and get some fur. This is actually deer fur.

But like I said, you probably don't have that. So get some cat, dog fur, maybe some hair from your own brush or comb because sometimes remember, animals will eat other animals and that stuff doesn't digest. All right. So here we are. Here is both some real scat and some scat that we made. So let's just go down the line. We'll start off with this one. Now what this one is. It's like rodents scat.

This is the pack rat scat, and our mud rodents scat, could be mouse. This one. The real deer scat, and here's our mud deer scat. You can see right here, there's little bits of grass that didn't digest. And over here, rabbit scat that made outta mud and oatmeal. And then here's our real rabbit scat. In fact, it looks very similar. If I put that in there, you almost can't even tell the difference. Over here to this side. Remember, these guys were all the herbivores. Over here we have some omnivores. There's a variety of things. Bobcat scat, and there's the fur. And here's our mud Bobcat scat. And we use the deer fur right here and see it sticking out the end like a tail. These could be a variety of things, but they looked pretty close to the coyote scat.

Here's a real piece of coyote scat, the one that had the bit of acorn in there. This one right here has a bit also of acorn and some other things in there as well. They just didn't digest. This one I think is mostly made outta mud. There might be some oatmeal in there. This one also is a mixture of mud and oatmeal. This one, it's all oatmeal. Let's start off by looking at the dirt. So we can see there's some clumps in the dirt. And I just used a spoon here to scoop it up. We don't want all these clumps, so try to break 'em up so it's nice and smooth.

All right. We can see there's already little bits of root in there and stuff. You can keep that in there if you want to, or you can take it out. I think it would work as like possibly hairs or just grass that didn't digest. Here's some mud that I had in progress. Hopefully everybody's played in the mud. This mud right here, it's a little too sticky.

So I'm gonna add some dirt to it. My fingers are all getting clumped up. I'm gonna add some dirt cause we don't want it too sticky. Cause then it just sticks to our hands and it doesn't mold into anything. A little bit more I think. And you really don't need to put very much water in there. That was my mistake is then I poured way too much water into my dirt. So this is getting better. It's getting like mud ball consistency.

Okay. So I'm gonna get this one outta the way. I'm going to Just put this right there. And if you notice, we have this tray, right? And then I also have this thing right here. We gotta use those things, okay? Unless you're outside. If you're outside, then great. If you're inside, you gotta make sure that you don't get the furniture and stuff covered in mud. So let's go ahead and start with the easy things first.

I think we should make some rabbit scat. So here's a real piece of rabbit scat right there. Easiest one. I'm gonna take my scissors. I'm gonna cut up some little bits of grass. Cause remember, rabbits eat grass. Not all the grass digest because sometimes there's just too many fibers in there, and it doesn't get digested by the stomach. So it was kind of shot everywhere. I'm just gonna break off a little, little piece. Now this size, I'm gonna pick it up.

Pick all those little grass pieces up just like this. Like I said, they shot all everywhere. Make my ball. There we go. Got the little pieces in there. So there's our rabbit scat. And when it dries, it's gonna be lighter in color. So there's our rabbit scat. What could we make next? How about some deer scat? It's almost gonna be the same. I'm gonna pull the real piece of deer scat over. Here's the real deer scat. I'm gonna estimate we need, well, maybe not that much, right here. Oh look, we lucked out and there's already some plant stuff in there. And they eat a lot of the same stuff. So let's just go ahead and pick up those little bits of grass. I'm also gonna use some other things.

Here's some other plant. I'm just gonna chop those up. Roll the mud around on those. See? They're in there. There's some off screen over here. I'll get those. We got some more. And it needs to it be this little kind of oval shape. So smooth it up. Take that Off the end. There we go. That's pretty close. There's our deer scat And can mix some full of grownups in your house saying a deer walkthrough. How about an animal that has eaten some meat? So they're not just gonna cut it with a knife and fork, they're gonna bite right into it.

And they're gonna get bites of things that they can't digest Of course there's bones, But the other stuff is? Fur. That's right. So what do you wanna do? Pretend that this is maybe a Bobcat or a mountain lion? It's all stuck to my muddy fingers. There's the real deer fur. And like I said, you guys probably don't have deer fur so you can use some dog first, some cat fur, even some human hair from a brush, but please don't cut any hair off your pet, or your little brother, sister or yourself.

So we're gonna go ahead and just squeeze right in. And remember, let me pull the example over here. Thank you. Who's the real one. See how has that little point right there? That's where like all the hair kind of got twisted together at the very end, pull some more hair over. There we go. That's looking pretty good. All right. Here's our Bobcat scat right there. We got our herbivores. And then a carnivore right there.

What vore is missing? That's right. We're missing an omnivore. So omnivores, they're gonna have all sorts of seeds. I'm gonna pull some seed bits over, and then we will figure out what kind of animal we'll make the scat of. These are bits of, well, this might be able to tell you. that was in an acorn. Here are some Piñon. Here's a couple Juniper berries. That's when they come off the tree. But remember the animal's gonna digest some of that. So this is what I've done here.

So there's the full berry, Here's the Berry skin and soft part, like the fruit of it. There's another one. Here are the seeds that I pulled out. So which one of those three parts is gonna end up in our scat? The whole Berry, The juicy part, and the seeds? Most likely the seeds every once in a while, we'll see some skins of berries, nut let's have these seeds ready to go. Now, if we make a bear scat, you're gonna need a big, giant clump, right? If you have that much mud, great.

If not, you can make like a little mini bear scat, or you can make maybe raccoon scat that's been eating this. Here's our coyote scat that had a mixture of some fur in the acorn in there. Here is a bear scan that had nothing but Piñon shells those bits. If you just wanna make Omnivore scat, and you're not sure about what animal it is. That's fine too. So let's go ahead. I'm gonna get some more mud. It's a tiny bit left here. In fact, what I'll do is add some of this oatmeal that's been sitting there. And before I go on, I'll show you what I did for that. There's the regular oatmeal, crunched it up like this, broke it up and small bits and added some water. And then we waited for a little bit. So let's go ahead and add some of this to our mud. Just so it'll give it some more texture and color. Just squish it together.

I might have to add a little bit more dirt cause it's getting a little sticky. Yes, it's messy, but that's okay. All right. So here's our poop shape. Everybody knows what that is. Let's go ahead and add a few things in there. I'm gonna take and wipe my fingers off first. I'm gonna take some of these Piñon, and smash 'em up. Because the animal will have crunched them up too. So smashing the shell, smashing, oh, look at this. See that little hole right there? There's a bug that probably went in and ate it. Smashed that one, smashed that one, bunch of little shell bits. And we can say that it was going after some Juniper too. Let's just take those shell bits, smashing 'em in there.

And like I did before, just kind of roll the poop over it. I was roll the poop over, there's Juniper berries. There they are, stuck in there. And let's break those little acorn bit. Now, I know not everybody has oak trees around their house. Not everybody has Piñon trees. So what are some other things that you can use that have shells that you might have at home? Could you use sunflower seeds? Possible. Could you use peanuts if they have shells? Yep. You can do that too. Anything that would not digest, all right? Could work in there. So there is our omnivore scat right there. Comparing it to our coyote one right there. Not exactly the same. Here, let's do this. Let's twist it a little bit so we can get some of those cracks. There we go. That's better. Give it some texture right there. I hope you had fun making scat. I did.

We have to remember though, the scat in the ecosystems, where does it come from? Of course the animals. But what are the animals eating to make that scat? That's right. They're eating either plants or other animals. There's words that we use though that mean the same thing as plants and animals when we talk about ecosystems. What are they? We learned it a little while ago. Plants because they make their own food are called producers

They make their own food. The animals, well, they have to eat. They consume their food. They are called, yes, that's right, consumers. Consumers eat consumers. Consumers can also eat producers. The producers however, where are they getting their energy from? The sun. That's right. So all energy for life on earth starts from where? The sun.

Lesson 4 - Skulls

Students observe a variety of skulls from animals native to the Sandia Mountains.

Lesson 4 Video Transcript

Hey, boys and girls. We're back here at the Sandia Mountain Natural History Center. You can see that I have a whole bunch of skulls next to me. Well, obviously, they're from animals, right? But there's another word that we use when we talk about animals in ecosystems.

Has to do because they eat to get their energy. Remember what that is? Starts with a C. Con...consumers. So, here we have a bunch of consumer evidence. We can learn a lot by looking at the skull of consumers. How they get their energy. Remember, all animals, consumers and we can say consumers are spiders as well and fish and everything else that eats, they get their energy in different ways.

Now, they're all eating but they're getting their food different from one another. So, what we're going to be doing is looking at the details of these skulls to figure out what these animals are getting their energy from or in other words, what is their food? So, we're going to look at a whole bunch of them right now and what I'd like you to do is look at the details of those skulls. Try to think about what makes them different from one another or similar to each other as we look at them.

So, we saw a lot of skulls. They looked very different from one another but some of them also looked very similar. Let's start off with this one. It's got a long face, doesn't it? Long nose right here. What I would like to do is talk about the teeth. The teeth of an animal, a consumer, is its adaptation for being able to chew or catch its food. I want to focus on that word for a second, adaptation.

To adapt to something means to get used to doing something, right? An adaptation for an animal is something about its body shape or its behavior, how it acts that helps it survive. In a certain way. This animal's adaptation that we're going to talk about, like I said, are the teeth. So, when we look at the teeth here, we can see that they're flattish, not totally flat, there are bumps on it, ridges, but it still needs that to help it chew its food but they're mostly flat. Is this animal going to be catching another animal? Is this animal a predator?

Do you think? Remember, It's not just these teeth right here that are important for its survival. It's the kind of teeth that are up in the front. So does the animal look like it's going to catch its prey? I don't think so because it would need some good size pointy teeth upfront. These teeth back here help it chew a certain type of food. What kind of food is that? That's right. Plant stuff, leaves, things like that.

That's what these molars, these types of teeth are for. Our next animal is right here, our next consumer. You could see right away this animal lives a very different life from the one that we just looked at. How does it get its food? You're right, it catches its food. So is this predator or prey? Predator because it's a hunter.

Now these sharp teeth right here, these canines, are what it uses to catch its food, but then after catches, it has to do something. It has to eat, right? So, chew its food. These teeth back here. These are not necessarily for the catching, the stabbing part but for the chewing part and the cutting of that meat as it's chewing. We can see that they are all fairly pointy and then they just stop right back here, okay?

Sharp catching tooth, pointy chewing teeth back here. This guy right here. It's a big skull, isn't it? This has some big sharp teeth on it just like the last one that we looked at. See those big sharp teeth on that one? Big sharp teeth on this one. There's a difference though. Remember, this one had sharp teeth going all the way to the back. This one. Does it have sharp teeth going all the way to the back? No. There's some points on them but they are mostly flat. That's right. What does that mean about what this animal eats?

Obviously, it's going to catch prey sometimes, right? That's what these big sharp canine teeth are for. But it's also going to be eating...yeah, things from plants. Maybe nuts, like acorns or something like that. So this animal eats both types of food. Meat and plants. Now I'm going to hold up each of these three skulls again and I want you to think about what it is, how we label those three different types of animals based on their food. How they catch their food, how they get their food, and how they chew their food.

So if you remember the first one that we looked at had these flat teeth. Those three names of animals, how they eat, are omnivore, carnivore, herbivore. Omnivore, carnivore, herbivore. Which one is this? I'll tell you in a second but I want you to answer right now.

This guy, all sharp teeth. What is that? And our last one has both kinds, the sharp teeth and the flat teeth. If you said omnivore for this one, you got it. Has both kinds of teeth, eats all kinds of food. Now, this guy, all sharp teeth. You're right. Carnivore. That one's easy and our last one which was our first one earlier. All flat teeth, no sharp teeth at all. It eats plants. Yeah, you're right, herbivore. So, let's take a look at some of the teeth up close with this one. When you look at these teeth, we can determine what this animal is.

A carnivore, an herbivore, or an omnivore. What do you think? Now, when we first look at it, you think probably carnivore because we have these big sharp teeth right here. We have all these sharp teeth along here but then, when we get to the very back, there's these tiny little flatish not completely flat but flattish teeth back here. What is that tell us then? You're right, it's an omnivore. It's got sharp and flat.

Catches prey and it eats plant stuff. Maybe berries, cactus fruit, and things like that. Let's look closer at these back pointy teeth. These back pointy teeth, they're actually kind of cool. They're not just these big, long, catching, stabbing teeth. If we look at it closely, we can see they overlap. They act kind of like scissors. See how the scissors overlap one another? It's called shearing. What do you think this animal does with those teeth back there in that manner? It shears its food, the meat, it cuts the meat. These teeth pass by each other like scissors.

Now let's go up front. These tiny little teeth on the bottom and the top. You can feel with your tongue your own tiny front teeth like those, they're tiny, they're flat. Do you think that these are hunting teeth? Not so much. These sharp pointy teeth, those are hunting teeth. What are these use, what are these used for? Well animals like this one, it doesn't have arms does it? Has legs. So what is it going to use to pick things up? That's right it's going to use its mouth. If this is a mother and it's going to pick up its babies, does it want to use these sharp stabbing teeth? Of course not. It's going to use these little teeth.

These little teeth are called incisors. These little teeth are kind of like these things. Tongs used to pick things up without damaging so that she can gently pick up her babies without hurting them. Now, say this animal is walking along a trail and it hits a cactus with its paw. It gets a spine. Is it going to use these sharp teeth to pull out the spine?

Nope. These little incisors just like tweezers can grab a cactus spine, or maybe a flea, and pull it off. So, these have special uses too. Almost all mammals have those incisors there for doing things just like that, and grabbing. How about this one? This little guy has incisors. They're very different from the last one that we looked at. It has a bunch of flat teeth back here. So, it's an herbivore.

But it has these weird, long incisors up front. I think you probably have an idea of what group of animals or what animal this is besides herbivore. Uh these long incisors, they never stop growing. It relies on them rubbing against one another when it's chewing, on wearing them down just a little bit so they don't get too long. As they wear down, they also get sharp. They rub against each other and get sharp. Why do you think it has those? Well, it's an adaptation that it has to help it chew up and cut pieces of plant that are hard to.

Have you ever tried biting string or something like that with your front teeth? Sometimes, it's kind of hard. We have to really work at it. If those front teeth of ours, our incisors, were sharp, then, we could do it pretty quickly. That's what this guy does. It uses its sharp front incisors to cut the fibrous pieces of plant material that it's going to eat. Let's look at one more adaptation before I move on. I'm going to use these two. Just the top halves. One of these is a predator and one of these is a prey. One of these is carnivore and one of them is an herbivore. I bet you can figure it out real quick. Predator. It means it's a carnivore.

This is the prey which--and it doesn't have to be, but this one is an herbivore. Besides the teeth, these animals have some, have another adaptation to help them deal with their surroundings or their target. What do you think I mean by the target? That's right, the prey. This guy is going to pick a target. An animal out there that it wants to hunt. This one needs to always be on the lookout for things that are going to hunt it, for things that are stalking it, like that guy down there. The eye placements help these animals do the things that I just described. This animal's adaptation, with its eyes to help detect motion is the placement of the eyes. So I'm going to hold this like this, and my fingers are going to point in the direction the eyes go.

They don't go this way like ours. They go this way. That means this animal doesn't just see this way. It can also see like this. Wouldn't that be useful, to be able to detect something moving back here? I can't see it, but this animal sure could see that. And then it has the eye on the other side too. This animal's eyes do not face that way. They face like ours. Straight forward. This animal can focus very clearly on its prey. Its forward facing eyes can help them tell how far away things are, what the depth--it has the something called depth perception so it can tell how far away something is.

Eye placement on an animal is also an adaptation to help it survive. You may have noticed, I never once said the name of each of these animals that we just saw the teeth of. I'm going to show you some pictures from our trail cameras that have both the skull and the real animal in them. That way, you can tell what each of the animals we saw is.

[no sound during slideshow]

We have looked at a whole bunch of teeth and eye placement adaptations to help those animals survive. The activity that I'd like you to do would require you to go outside with your adult's permission. Now, if you can't find things outside, you can always look around in your house. In this case, you'll be going to your kitchen if you need to. What you're going to do is take some paper with you. You're going to look for food that an animal, a wild animal, might eat outside.

So, if you find some grass, on your paper, you're going to write down grass. That animal is going to need a certain type of teeth to be able to eat that grass. It's not going to be needing these sharp predator teeth. It'll be needing these flat plant-eating teeth. So, you'll write down the plant and then you'll draw the kind of tooth that is needed to be able to get or eat that. Um so, if you find grass, good. What else? What can we find outside? Leaves, maybe lizards, any other kind of animal would count.

If you can't find any animals, that's when the kitchen part comes in because if you have some meat, I want you to think about what the animal was before it became your, your food meat and figure out what kind of teeth it is that the animal would need to catch it. Here's another activity that I'd like you to do. Of course, you can do this when outside if you wanted to. You can do it inside too. What you're going to be doing is writing a creative story about one or two of these animals getting their food.

So, using the ad--the adaptations that we've talked about, their teeth and their eyes, um write a story with some good details about how that animal is getting the food. Um it could be the animal's day leading up to the animal getting their food. It could be just those few minutes during the time the animal is getting that food. Um remember, talk about the teeth, talk about the eyes.

If you know some other adaptations that this particular animal has that helps it through its day and survive its, during its lifetime. you can throw those details in there as well. So, remember, teeth, eyes, the food it's getting, how it's getting food and maybe any other kind of adaptations you're aware of for that animal and put it all together in a nice creative story.

Lesson 5 - Leaves

This fifth segment of the Sandia Mountain Natural History Center's virtual field trip focuses on leaves: their types, characteristics, and purpose.

Lesson 5 Video Transcript

Good morning boys and girls. Welcome back to the Sandia Mountain Natural History Center. My name is Vince and I've been behind the camera while Steven was teaching over the past few videos and I thought I'd give it a try.

If you notice, there are trees all around me. I'm surrounded by the trees and if you remember back to one of the first videos when Steven was talking about the different parts of an ecosystem. Do you remember what we called plants and trees? That's right. It did start with a P. Do you remember that word? That word was producers. Now, let's think about producers for a minute. Why do we use that term producers? And why might they be important to the ecosystem?

That's right. Producers are those parts of the ecosystem that make their own energy out of sunlight. Now, let's think about producers for a minute. What do they provide to the rest of the ecosystem? Let's think about that for a moment. Let's think about trees. Let's think about plants. What do they provide to everything else?

Yes, that's right. They provide food to everything else in the ecosystem. What else might they provide? Everybody take a big deep breath. Hmm, what did we just do? We we breathed in. What did we breathe in? We breathed in oxygen. Where did that oxygen come from? If you're thinking from the producers and the trees, you're absolutely correct. That oxygen is released by the producers and we breathe it in as consumers, and when we breathe out, what do we breathe out?

If you're thinking carbon dioxide, you would be right. So, there's a relationship going on between the producers and consumers, not just for food but also for the air we breathe. Now, let's think about some other things that producers might be good for. What am I sitting at right here? I'm sitting at a table. What's this table made of? It's made of wood and where did that wood come from? It came from trees.

So, the furniture we have in our homes, in our classrooms also come from producers. Now, if you don't have one already, make sure that you have a notebook and pencil with you because you'll be using the notebook and pencil throughout this activity. So, let's think of anything else that producers might be good for for human beings and if you just thought of a pencil, you would be right.

The pencil came from a tree as well because it's made of wood. The paper that we write on also came from trees, didn't it? So, there's all sorts of things in the ecosystem within the producers that are important for us. Now, in a moment, you're going to be seeing a bunch of pictures of different kinds of producers. I want you to look carefully at those producers as those pictures go by and think about what you notice and when we pay attention to something really closely, what are we really doing?

There's a scientific term for that. That's right, that term is making observations. So, make observations of these images of the producers and pay attention to what's similar and different between all the different producers you're going to see. [no sound during slideshow] Alright, so now you've had a chance to look at different images of producers. What did you notice about all of them? What were they? If you're thinking plants, all different kinds of plants, you would be right. And so now, we're going to talk a little bit about different kinds of plants that live here in the Sandia Mountains, and we're going to pay particular attention to some of the different parts that are on the plants.

Now, you are looking at some of the different plants, you may have seen something that looked like this or something that looked like this. What are these things boys and girls? If you're thinking leaves, that would be correct. These are leaves. Now, what is the purpose of leaves? What do they do on a plant? You'll notice these leaves are green whereas these leaves are brown. What happened to the brown leaves. That's right, they died. Some types of trees have leaves that start out as green but in the fall, what happens to them?

They change colors. Have you ever been down to the river in the Bosque? Those big tall cottonwood trees, their leaves turn what color? Yellow, that's right. After they turn yellow as it gets colder, they turn brown and they fall off the trees. But when they're green, what are they doing for the tree? That's right. They're absorbing the sun's energy and creating their own energy through a process. Does anybody know what that process is called? If you haven't learned that, that's okay, but it's what we call photosynthesis. Do you know what's happening in photosynthesis? In photosynthesis, the trees are able to convert the sun's energy into what we call sugar and that sugar is called glucose. If you remember when Steven was talking, you may have noticed that some trees have something else.

What do we call these? What about this right here? That's right, they're needles, and needles are on a different kind of tree, aren't they? We also have something that looks like this. These aren't needles or leaves, are they? And we call those scales and if you look real closely, you can see the scales overlapping one another and they feel like the back of a reptile or a fish. Now, why do some trees have leaves like this? And other trees and plants have needles or scales? Because they're adapting to the habitat and the climate that they that they exist in. Now, does anybody know what we call a tree that has either needles or scales? I'll give you a little hint.

These trees produce something where their seeds are. What do we call these? We call these cones and so we call trees with needles and scales coniferous trees. Now, these other kinds of trees that have leaves like this leaf or something like this. We call deciduous trees. So, we have two kinds of trees, deciduous and coniferous. Now, one of the things we're trying to figure out is why do some trees have cones like these and some trees have needles, some trees have scales, and some trees have leaves.

Why might that be? Well, we talked about it earlier. It's because they adapt to the environment in which they live. Adaptations are super important and let's think about different kinds of adaptations besides leaves, needles, and scales. What other kinds adaptations might plants have? If you're thinking about different color of leaves, you would be right. Different kinds of plants have different color leaves for a specific purpose. In some climates like the desert southwest are fire prone.

Do you know what I mean by fire prone? That's right. Areas that sometimes can have wildfires and so some trees have developed the ability to survive forest fires and we'll talk about that sometime in another video I'm sure. At this point, we're going to go ahead and stop because we'll see you in the lab in just a few moments where we're going to look specifically at more adaptations that trees and producers have.

We just finished learning outside in the field about different kinds of leaves and we're now here in the, in our science lab at the Center and just a quick reminder about some different kinds of leaves that we've been talking about. So, if you remember, these are needles, right? What kinds of trees have needles like this? Or needles like this? Or even scales like this? Do you remember the word for that? That's right, coniferous. Now, we also have trees that have real leaves like these. What kind of trees have leaves like these?

That's right. Deciduous leaves or deciduous trees. So, in a moment, we're going to head to one of our lab benches and we're going to be spending some time looking at deciduous leaves, looking at their traits, their characteristics, and trying to understand how trees have adapted to their given climate. You guys ready? Let's go. So, let's look at these leaves. What do you notice about these leaves? What do each of them have? That's right.

They each have some parts and if you look closely, some of the parts are, this part here, right in here and we call that the leaf blade. That's the main part of the leaf. What else do you notice? That's right, you notice something sticking out of each of the leaves. We might want to call them a stem but technically that part is called a petiole. And if you look closely down at the base of the petiole, each leaf has what we call a node.

That's where the leaf attaches to the rest of the tree. And yes, you're right. There is something else you notice. Inside the leaf blade itself, you might notice these things that look like veins in different parts of the leaves. Just like us, leaves have to get their nutrients to all parts of their tree and leaf, and the veins take care of that. Let's look more closely at some of these leaves. You'll notice that these leaves are all singular. They all have one leaf.

Whereas other type types of leaves come together in multiples. So you'll notice that these leaves have more than one. Okay? This one has five. This one has many more than five and this one has even more than that. So let's take look at these. There's a specific name for these. The ones that only have one leaf are called simple leaves and these are called compound leaves. Now, we're going to look at the edges of the leaves. Let's look at the edges of these leaves. You notice how they're very smooth.

So, some leaves have smooth edges. While other leaves like these right here, if you look really closely, you can see they're not completely smooth. Instead, we like to call them wavy. Waves can be small like these or they can be bigger like these. Uh another kind of leaf edge is what we call leaves with lobes and if you look carefully here they have lobes right here they're bigger than the waves so we call them lobes and these have sort of smaller lobes just like our earlobe and then the last kind of leaf edge we have are leaves that are jagged and if you look closely here they have jagged edges almost like teeth on the edge of the leaves.

As we look at these leaves we're going to look at shapes. If you look at each of these leaves they kind of look like they all have different shapes don't they? But these two right here are more circular and what I mean by circular is if you draw a circle around the leaf, they form that shape, right? Not perfectly but pretty close. Same thing here. You get a circle going all the way around. This one right here and this one, what are those look like to you? If you said triangle, you'd be right. So, if I draw a triangle on it.

On this one, you'll be able to see the shape of the triangle, won't you? This one though when it matures and gets older and grows more is going to look like something else. What do you think that might be? If you look carefully, you might see a heart shape. Just like that. And lastly, these three leaves, what are those look like to you?

They're called lance-like leaves but they might look like a sword or a knife, something like that. So, as you can see, leaves have different shapes, circular, triangle, heart shape, and lance. And as we look at these leaves, boys and girls, what do you notice? That's right, you might notice different colors. Of course, we have green leaves right here and we have some green leaves here but notice they start to fade into a darker color, kind of like purple and then these are also purple and as you look at this leaf right here, it's looking sort of a dark green or a darker purple and finally, you have this lighter color.

So, leaves will also have different colors. When you look carefully at leaves, you might also notice that some leaves are very soft. Now, you can't really see it but if you touch it, it's very soft whereas these are more waxy and shiny. So, boys and girls, we've just spent some time looking at different traits and characteristics of deciduous leaves, haven't we? You might wonder exactly what a trait is. Well, a trait is just something that that shows us how something looks or how something grows and now, we're going to move into an activity, a hands-on project that you'll all participate in.

I'm going to show you how to do it. There's really two main parts. The first will be collecting and preserving leaves. The second part will be making leaf rubbings or drawings and identifying different parts, different characteristics of those leaves. As you can see, I've collected some leaves here and before I can do anything else in this, I need to go ahead and preserve my leaves because one of the things you'll notice is this leaf right here, notice that it's gotten, notice that it's gotten dried up and crinkled and curved. We don't want that.

We want our leaves to stay flat. So, the thing we need to do to make 'em flat is we take our leaves and take a of paper. Any kind of paper folded in half and then we're going to put a leaf in there just like that, okay? And you might not have a brand new sheet of paper, that's okay, maybe you have an old notebook paper like this and so we'll go ahead and take our leaves and put them in there just like this and keep them nice and flat. There we go and then we take our two sheets of paper and we're going to put them into a notebook just like this and we'll close our notebook like that.

The last thing to do, if you have something heavy like a rock or a can of food, go ahead and put it on just like that, and maybe leave it overnight. That way your leaves stay flat and then you can go ahead and start your leaf rubbings. As you can see, there's some leaves here and I'm going to move all the leaves out of the way except for one of them and I'm going to take this sheet of paper and put it right on top. I'm going to grab a black crayon and make what we call a leaf rubbing. Take a look at that. Pretty neat huh?

Now, we're going to do some other leaf rubbings besides this one in different colors and also using pencils or colored pencils. So, let's take a look at those as well. Here's another leaf. There's another sheet of paper and this time we're using a different color for crayon. It seems to work best if you're able to find the leaf edge. There we go. There's the leaf edge and once you find the leaf edge, keep rubbing around until you've got the entire leaf on your paper. Doesn't that look nice? Let's try a colored pencil now in a different leaf.

Let's see how this works. And it really helps if you put your finger kind of towards the tip of the the thing you're using whether it's a crayon a pencil or a colored pencil and there you go you've got another leaf rubbing and one more with just a regular pencil because some of you that might be all you have at home which is completely fine. Again you find the edge of the leaf oh look at that coming out just beautifully. Now, once you've made the leaf rubbings, your job will be to go ahead and label the leaf with some of the characteristics and traits that we've been learning about.

So, let's go back to the orange leaf that we made a rubbing of. Do you all see that? What are some of the parts of this leaf? What are some of the characteristics and traits of this leaf that we notice in the leaf rubbing? Well, it's a little hard for me to write upside down. So, I'm going to talk you through this a little bit. First of all, we know that it's a deciduous leaf, right? It's not scales or needles. We also might notice that the entire leaf part right here is the leaf blade.

We might have this petiole which we kind of think is like a stem. We might also be able to see the veins. You also will notice the shape of the leaf. In this case, it's fairly circular. The edges, though, are lobes. Now once you've identified and labeled your leaf, I'll ask you to turn it over, and go ahead and take your preserved leaf, grab a piece of tape or some glue if you have it, and glue or tape it down to the back.

And then you'll do that for all of the leaves, just like this one. We're going to tape it and ultimately you're going to be making a leaf book, so you have more than one kind of leaf and you'll go through and label each one with some of the different characteristics and traits we've been learning about.

Lesson 6 - Change Over Time

Lesson 6 Video Transcript

[Vince] Hi, boys and girls. Welcome back to the Sandia Mountain Natural History Center. We're a little further up the trail today in in an area that's more forested than we've been in another at other times. I want to ask you guys a few questions. What have we been learning about? Yeah, we've been learning about ecosystems and what are ecosystems made of.

They have different parts, don't they? That's right. They have abiotic and biotic parts. We've also spent some time learning about some of the specific biotic parts like producers and consumers. Now, I have a question for you. Do ecosystems stay the same all the time or do they change? If you're thinking they change, you would be correct.

Ecosystems do not stay the same. They change. Now, the question is, how do they change? Well, they change through natural forces and natural mechanisms, things like fire, things like water, things like weather and climate, but we're also going to spend some time talking about rocks and fossils as well. Some changes occur really fast, within a matter of hours or even minutes sometimes.

Sometimes ecosystems or changes occur over long periods of time. Sometimes thousands or millions of years. Other changes happen over and over and over again. We call those changes cycles or seasonal cycles. So, now I have another question.

How do scientists know that ecosystems change? In other words, what do scientists do to figure out that the ecosystems are changing over time? If you're thinking about they figure it out when they make observations, you would be absolutely correct. Scientists make observations of things that they're looking at to try to understand what's occurring.

So today, we're going to start by making some observations and thinking through what kinds of changes occur in the ecosystem. We're going to focus on abiotic factors and how they help ecosystem change over time. I want to start with a colleague of mine. His name is Paul and he's going to talk to us about things like fire.

[Paul] So, a fire is a natural process. How do they start? Lot of people would say that they start by humans but there's a more natural way that they start. Lightning. Yes, so what happens is light a lightning storm will come over and if you notice all these trees, these ponderosa trees, the trees with the orange bark, they're the tallest trees in the forest.

So, when that storm comes over, would you want to be standing under one of these tall pine trees? Probably not. So, these tall ponderosas, they get struck by lightning and then, one of several things happens. Either the inside of the tree slowly smolders and as the storm passes, it slowly smolders until it reaches the outside and then embers fall into these needles on the ground.

Or the tree sparks right away and embers fall into these needles on the ground okay but that's how the fire starts alright. But then a lot of people will say well why would the ponderosas want to start a fire doesn't wood burn. That's right but these ponderosas have a specific way of surviving the fires. First of all that fire that they start is burning on the ground. Now we look at the tree.

How would that fire climb this tree? Are there any branches down low? Now we can see a few little stubs here and there. What happens is this is a self-pruning tree. So, as the tree grows, it sheds its lower branches and those are what we call ladder fuels. So, it's very hard for the fire to climb the tree. Other people will say, well, won't the bark burn? Well, it will burn but it's very paper like.

So, the bark catches on fire but then it flakes right off, floats to the ground and that's very hard then to catch the whole tree on fire. And then people will say, well, what about just the pure heat? This bark is about an inch thick. So, it's going to act as an insulator. So, what happens is the fire burns right past the ponderosa. It it burns off the bottom of the tree a little bit but the ponderosa survives the fire.

As a matter of fact, the more ponderosa go through fire, the stronger they are for the next fire. Their their crowns or their canopy, the green parts of the tree actually get pushed up each fire and their wood gets harder each time it survives a fire. So, Ponderosa actually needs lightning and wants fires. So now we're in the Bosque down by the Rio Grande River and different forces are are causing quick changes. Where before in the ponderosa we had fire. Now we're talking about floods.

Flooding is a very important part of the Rio Grande Bosque ecosystem. You might say aren't floods bad? Well in certain circumstances of course they're not good. But this ecosystem actually needs flooding. Because cottonwood trees, the predominant trees that we see around us, they rely on flooding to grow because without floods, we don't have mud and without mud, those seeds that you see sprinkling down in the spring, those seeds won't grow in dry soil.

They need moist and damp soil in order to grow. So, what a flood does is it comes through and it scour away a lot of these bushes and and the debris that's been left all winter and it creates space for these trees to grow. One of the problems that we're facing though is that we see that we have all tall cottonwood trees. That means the cottonwood trees are all older or mature. What do you think the problem with that is?

I know that's a tough question but there's no young cottonwoods and the reason for that is we haven't had flooding and the reason we haven't flooding is because we have changed the river to suit the needs of humans and what we've done is we've dammed the river several times up up river and we've also build dikes along the river. What this does is controls the flooding which makes it safer for people to live by the river but it eliminates flooding and when we eliminate flooding, we're changing the way the ecosystem works.

So now, all of our cottonwood trees are reaching the end of their life. Can you think of a way that you can save the cottonwoods?

[Steven] So, Paul was just talking to you about fire in the forest in an ecosystem as well as flooding in an ecosystem. One of those two things can cause something that created this that I'm standing in right here. I'm down low goes up high that way and it goes up high over that way. What do you think is going to cause some formation like this?

Fire or water? Yeah, most likely water is going to cause something like that. Now, we're going to be talking about weathering and erosion. So, here we are up close to some of the rock that really makes up the mountain. We can see it because all the dirt that covered it up, the soil and the other rock has gone away.

Now, what makes it go away? Well, it was one of those words that I just mentioned, erosion, that's right. So, erosion is when rock, bits of rock, soil, and we can also call this the dirt and stuff in the soil sediment. When that stuff gets moved, whether it's by water washing it away or gravity pulling it down or wind blowing a little bit of of dirt away, that's erosion.

Now, it has to get into small parts to be able to get moved because this rock right here, this rock's not going to move anywhere unless pieces of it break off. So, what causes that? Well, that's the other word I talked about. Weathering. So, what do you think makes weathering happen? Well, yeah. Obviously, the weather, right? Because it's in the word. So, every time it rains, it might dislodge, it might break away a little tiny piece or particle of rock.

If it rained and water went in the cracks of the rock and then it froze that night. Well, that water when it freezes is going to expand. It's going to push just like if you put a water bottle in a freezer and it gets bulgy, it pushes out like this and it makes the bottle messed up. Same thing happens. So, what do you think is going to happen to these pieces of rock when if when the water inside the cracks freeze? Yeah, the pieces of rock will break off and those cracks might get bigger.

Here's something else that will make the cracks expand and pieces of rock break away. This little tiny piñon tree. It's growing right out of the rock but can it really grow right at a solid rock? No. The seed fell and it landed in a yeah in one of these little cracks here and then it took root. As this tree really slowly grows and the roots in there grow larger. It's going to push the rock and open it up as well.

So plants can even cause some of the rocks to break up. Um now this stuff that's happening. The weathering and the erosion. Weathering happens super, super, super slow. Erosion, it usually happens pretty slow as well. So, weathering and erosion are a slow change to an ecosystem.

[Vince] Hello again, boys and girls. Paul and Steven have talked about weather in their discussions earlier and I'm wondering what the difference is between weather and climate. Well, weather is what's happening right now. Climate happens over years and years over a long period of time. You'll notice I'm standing by this piece of machinery here. What do you think it's measuring?

Is it measuring climate or weather? You be right if you said weather because this machine is measuring the temperature. It's probably about 70 degrees. It's also measuring the wind speed and the wind direction. It's measuring other things like humidity and pressure. So, weather is what happens on a day-to-day basis. Think about it this way. When you get ready to go outside of your home, you have to think about what to wear, don't you?

Well, weather the day-to-day weather indicates what we should wear from day to day today could be 70 tomorrow we could get a storm and it could be 35° and maybe we get a little snow. Climate on the other hand is something that happens over a very long period of time, decades, hundreds of year,s sometimes even thousands or millions of years, and climate is what is occurring over these long periods of time and it helps us choose what kinds of clothes we want to have in our closet.

Things that we might wear now as we enter spring and early summer. Things that we might want to wear in the fall and things that we might want to wear in the winter. Some places are going to be very cold in the winter but other places around the equator might be really warm all year round. So again, weather is what happens day to day and climate happens over a very long period of time.

[Steven] We are on top of a ridge right now at the center. Um before we were down in a little canyon when I was talking about erosion. Um just to recap what Vince said a little bit ago. He's talking about the difference between weather and climate. Weather is what the what happens every day. It rains today. It's hot tomorrow.

Climate is the collection of that over a long long period of time. Many many many years. Now these rocks around me. These are all limestone rocks. You might remember seeing a big giant limestone rock next to me when I was talking about erosion.

The cool thing about limestone when you find limestone is that, now, it doesn't really look like anything special. It's just a gray rock. Nothing, nothing nothing beautiful about it but it tells us something. Tells us that there used to be an ocean. Now, this was once mud, if you can believe it, at the bottom of an ocean. Now, it wasn't just mud at the bottom of the ocean.

It was mud at the bottom of an ocean that was at the equator. Remember where the equator is? On maps and on globes, it's that black line that goes around the middle of the earth kind of like kind of like a belt right around the middle portion of the earth. What is the climate like at the equator?

Think it's cold? Well, it might get chilly up in the mountains but usually the climate around the equator is warm, hot, humid. So, very different place, isn't it? Now, I could tell you that this was all stuff at the bottom of an ocean but if you're doing science, you don't just tell somebody and say that's how it is and then they just automatically believe you. You have to have something to prove it. What is that word?

Starts with an E. It means the same thing as proof. Evidence. You need evidence. So, what kind of evidence do you think that we can find in these rocks that would be proof of an ocean? Fossils, yeah, we can find fossils. Now these fossils are from 300 million years ago when we do find them so, before all the dinosaurs mostly, still a super long time ago so what we're going to do right now is go hunting for some fossils or in other words look for that evidence that proves the ocean was here Crinoid, nice. That's perfect.

Ooh, that's a good one. Alright, here we are with our bag of fossils. Now, fossils, they are evidence. They're cool. There's still evidence. This one really is nice it is really nice seashell we can see the lines in it. That's a piece of evidence because there's no, there's nothing on land that has a shell that opens up like this is there?

There are snail shells, that the snails live on land but not this kind of clam like thing. Yeah, here's another one. It's another shell. Um just like that, like a cup. We can see the lines in there and the shape. This is a really nice shell. It's got both sides to it. So, whereas those that we just looked at had one half of it.

This has the whole creature, and it's all closed up. Definitely nothing on land like that. This one's very cool. Magnifying it makes it look completely different. We can see all sorts of little holes, little kind of tubes in there. This is from something called the sea sponge. This one didn't survive. It's not around anymore. So, what do we call that? Yeah, this one's extinct. This one has more of a texture.

It's from something called a bryzoan. Again, only lives in the ocean. There's no land bryzoans. This one looks like a little stack of discs. So, actually from a stem and then at the top of the stem, there was like little tentacle-ly like arms. It was an animal but it was attached to the sea floor and it would just catch food as it drifts by and then when it caught it, it would move it to the middle. So, what's in the middle? Yeah, the mouth and then it would consume it.

Oh, if it consumes, what is it? Consumer. Here's a little circle. This is from a coral. This type of coral is called horn coral. It's called horn coral because what do you think it looks like? Yeah, it looks like a horn like a bull's horn. So, it would attach to, be attached to a rock. At the top of it, there'd be more little tentacle things and when food drifts by, catches it, consumer or producer?

That's right, consumer. There is our evidence. These are all organisms that live only in the ocean. That is the evidence that tells us that all this limestone was once mud at the bottom of the ocean. There's a word that I used a little bit ago when I was talking about erosion. It's another word that we can use for dirt and sand and things like that. Starts with an S, not soil though.

Sed....sediment. That's right. So, all this stuff, all the sediment, little bits of fossil and stuff is what makes up this limestone rock. Now, all that's the thing, all those are things that lived in the ocean but what about on land? Let's focus on the plants because there are lots and lots of plants on land at this time. What is the gas that plants absorb? Yeah, carbon dioxide and what's the gas that plants release?

The oxygen. Plants need the carbon dioxide. Animals like us or bugs need the oxygen. There was so much oxygen on earth at that time that many of the insects that we have today that are tiny were huge, giant cockroaches, giant dragonflies. Because there was so much oxygen in the atmosphere it allowed them to grow larger. When trees die, they hold on to a lot of that carbon from the carbon dioxide.

So, if we have billions and billions and billions of plants and trees on Earth living absorbing carbon dioxide, releasing oxygen, and then holding on to that carbon dioxide, something's going to change in the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide is a kind of gas that hold on the heat. It's called the greenhouse gas because of greenhouses where you grow plants. It's always warm in there.

Um so, if there's lots and lots of oxygen and declining amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, eventually the air is not going to get warm and hold a lot of heat. The air is going to get, yeah it's going to get colder. So that causes a change, a change in the climate, and a change over time. if an organism, a plant, or an animal, or whatever thing that is living cannot survive in a colder place, what might happen? It might die. If they all die, yeah, that's right.

They went extinct but if they can change, what's that word? They can adapt, then they might survive and of course, if they can move, they might move but that's like an adaptation as well. So the earth went from a warm humid plant covered place to a colder place with lots of ice. What do you think we called that period of time? I think you got it, yeah, an ice age, because the temperature went down, the ice covered more of the earth, and so that changed the kind of organisms that were able to survive in certain place.

That ice age, do you think it lasted forever? Of course not. The planet's climate is always changing. If you have enough time go by, change is going to happen. So, the changing that happened after that ice age allowed organisms like this salamander that we have a fossil of in our museum to become a successful creature and eventually, things changed again, out that salamander went.

The giant salamander didn't survive the, until now. Um so, what we need to remember is that the climate on Earth is always changing, but usually over very long periods of time, and a long period of time is over millions and millions of years. Right now, the atmosphere, the climate is warming and that's happening over just a couple hundred years. We'll talk about that in another video though.

[Vince] So, in this video, we've been learning about how ecosystems change over time. Let's think about that minute. How do ecosystems change over time? Sometimes those changes happen really rapidly like with a forest fire. Sometimes those changes happen over a very very long period of time like the fossils that we've been looking at.

Other times those changes happen cyclically or over seasons like the flooding. Or on a daily basis we have weather. Now how do scientists know ecosystems change over time? What do they need to do? They need to make observations. Sometimes they can make measurements. Now, in this activity for the video, we're going to make an observation log and I'm going to show you an observation log I made and explain how one works.

So, here's mine. You can see I've divided the paper into four columns. The first column says time and date. Column two says observation one, column three says observation 2, and the last column says observation three. We want you to choose three different things that you can observe. We'll ask you to first choose weather, because everybody can observe the weather, and then you'll notice that I selected a plant or flower that I want to observe really closely, and the third thing is my trash can. In the first column, we put the time.

So, we'll put the 9 AM and we'll put the date. Today is April 23rd, 2020. The next column says weather. So, what's the weather like today? Well, it's windy, it's sunny, maybe about 70°, or warm if you don't know the temperature. Whatever you can figure out for the weather you'll put there. Then tomorrow, I'm going to look at the weather again at the same time and make some observations.

Maybe it's cloudy, maybe it's a little cooler or warmer. Whatever it is, I'll go ahead and write that down. In the second observation, I chose a flower and in this case, this flower was say yellow and halfway open. Tomorrow, maybe the flower is a little more open. Maybe it's all the way open. In a couple days, maybe that flower has died or the petals have fallen off. Whatever you observe, go ahead and write that down and then the last column is my trash can.

I'm going to pretend that today my trash can was empty and then tomorrow, maybe there's just a little bit of a trash in there maybe it's 10% full so I might write 10% then the next day is half full and then eventually it's going to fill up and it's going to be taken out to the trash and then it'll be empty again. Whatever you observe, are observing, go ahead and write those things down. You can be creative in your second and third observation.

You do not have to select what I've selected. You may choose to go outside and observe all the animals and insects and birds that you've been able to observe, or you may choose to stay inside and maybe you look at things that you're eating every day, or things your aunt or uncle or brother or sister or whoever's in your house, maybe something they're eating. Whatever it is, choose three different things that you're going to observe and observe them for seven to 10 days or maybe two weeks. At the end of your observation period, we're going to ask you to analyze your observations.

You're analyzing data and the way you do that is you look for patterns and things that might have changed or may have stayed the same over your week to two weeks of observations. Because ultimately, what we're looking for is change over time. How has the weather changed over time? How has this flower? Or how has the trash can changed? If it's changed, indicate that. If it hasn't, write about that too.

Lesson 7, Part 1: Decomposition

Part one of a two-part series about decomposition and soil.

Lesson 7, Part 1 Video Transcript

[Vince] Hello again. Here we are back at the Sandia Mountain Natural History Center and today we're going to learn about something that we've not talked about yet. Let's think a little bit about what we have been talking about. What's our big concept that we've been discussing? Yep, ecosystems and what are ecosystems?

Ecosystems are places where living and non-living parts are connected, where they work together. Now, these parts, the living and non-living parts. We have abiotic and biotic, don't we? We've learned about the abotic things just recently in our change over time video and then we've also learned about the biotic parts, things like skulls and scat from our consumers and things like leaves from our producers but something's missing.

What have we not talked about or learned about? Well, instead of telling you, I want you to pay attention to these next pictures. Make some observations, maybe even take some notes and try to figure out what this part is that we're going to be learning about today.

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Now, you've taken a look at some of those pictures. What did you notice in those pictures? What were those things? They were mushrooms, that's right. Did you notice anything else in there? There may have been some pictures of mold too. What's the scientific term for mushrooms and mold? I'll give you a little hint. It starts with an F and it starts with the word fun.

Fungi, absolutely. Now, what role do fungi play in the ecosystem? If you remember, we had abiotic things, we had producers, we had consumers, then what was in that other category? That other category was, starts with a D... and you might be thinking it, decomposers. That's right. What do decomposers do in the ecosystem? What's their role? How do they function?

Where do they get their energy from? If you're thinking dead stuff, you'd be right. Let's take a look at this dead oak tree right here. There's several things in here you might notice, different colors of stuff. You might notice this whitish stuff here. That's a type of fungi you might also notice this black stuff which is also a fungi. These gray things though are not fungi. They are lichen.

They have a different role in the ecosystem and we might talk about them another time. Same thing with something down here that you can't see off camera, that is moss. Moss and lichen will also grow on trees when they're living and they stay on there when they die. Now, let's talk about the fungi here for a moment.

This whitish stuff especially. It's the very top of the fungus. We're not seeing the rest of the fungus, are we? The rest of the fungus is inside the dead tree. There's a little tiny white string-like things called mycelium and mycelium is the main part of the fungi. The part we're seeing though is only the reproductive or fruiting bodies of the fungi. Now, there's one other kind of decomposer that we've not talked about. We can't see it at all with our naked eyes, can we? We can only see it through a microscope.

I'll give you a hint if you haven't figured it out already. It starts with a B. Bac..... bacteria. Yeah. So, fungi and bacteria are the main types of decomposers we like to talk about here at the center and in a moment, we're going to hear from Steven who's going to teach us a little bit more about what happens to dead stuff within the ecosystem.

[Steven] When animals die, when plants die out here, where do they go? Well, first of all, they're going to fall down to the ground, right? Vince already talked about decomposers. So, they take care of all those things but let's talk a little bit about what happens before the decomposing.

Animal, let's say squirrel, collapses, falls out of the tree, dies, lands right here. It's not going to start decomposing right away. Other animals like scavengers might come by and find a free snack. So a vulture is a scavenger, coyotes can be scavengers. Those things will eat it, they'll drag it around, might crunch up the bones, maybe not eat everything, leave the bones behind, leave the fur down there, but what they have is kind of break up that dead animal, that dead squirrel in this case and scattered it around.

Now, when the leaves fall, they land on the ground obviously. There's a whole bunch of them down here. There's oak leaves, there's pine needles, there's pieces of branch, they're all down here too. They're not starting to decompose immediately but they will start to break apart. We can say they will start to fragment. A fragment is a smaller piece of a bigger thing.

To fragment is to break up into those smaller pieces. What's doing that? Well, there's something kind of like scavengers but they're called detritivores, detritivores. So, detritivores, well, they're eaters. They are eating things. They're consumers but they are eating what we called detritis. So, all the stuff on the ground, the things that I just picked up, that's detritis. We can use that word detritis in lots of occasions. You have a party, there's a bunch of empty cups, plates, crumbs, napkins, all that stuff is detritis from the party.

Well, this is detritis from the forest. Pillbugs. Millipedes. Those things are detritivores. They live down here in all this dead leaf stuff. We can call it leaf litter. They are eating those dead leaves and pieces of wood and bark and pine needles and breaking them up into smaller bits. That's going to make it easier for the decomposers to start doing their thing, to start decomposing.

Not eating but breaking apart, breaking that stuff down into what we can call the chemical elements that make up all living things. So, two-- couple kinds of chemical elements would be nitrogen. I think you've probably heard of nitrogen before. Calcium like in our bones. When those decomposers break down this dead stuff, they're breaking it down and leaving behind matter-- and I'll talk about that in a second--in small little bits and that matter is the chemical elements. Things like I said, the calcium and the nitrogen.

Guess what can absorb that calcium and nitrogen now that it's in the ground. The producers, the plants,. Let's go back to that word matter for a second. You've probably heard the word matter, states of matter, like water can be liquid, you put it in the freezer, it becomes ice, a solid, if you boil it in a pot, it becomes a gas. States of matter. So everything is matter. What has happened now with the decomposers is that they've transformed that matter into a new state that's available now for all these plants to soak up with their roots.

Let's take a closer look at all this leaf litter in bits and things that we can find if I dig a hole. Alright, so here we are down here low. Gonna start moving some of this leaf litter away but as I do, we can see all these big pieces, full leaves, full pine needles, full sticks, they're slowly being broken apart by those detritivores. In fact, when I scrape some of them away, we can start seeing a darker brown color. This is older stuff down here. Little bits. These are smaller bits now. Broken up pieces of needles and leaves.

They are being fragmented. And also I'm starting to see little white stringy things from the fungus. So we have evidence not only from the smaller bits of the detritovores doing their thing but of decomposition or decomposing happening. Lots of little white strings. As I dig down further, the pieces are getting even smaller and guess what it starts feeling like down there? It's not dry anymore. It's the opposite. It's damp. Go away Fly. It's damp. We can see stuff that starts to look like comp--what we call compost.

Digging down further. What's this? Looks like the little shell of a beetle, little guy. Starting to dig down and then we're seeing that organic matter, this stuff, starting to taper off. So look at all the stuff. Now we don't see anybody living in there, but there are living things. If we sat here long enough, we would eventually see see little detritivores moving around. Let's cover this back up, let everybody get back to work down there, finish up their decomposing of that section.

[Jim] Hi, I'm Jim Brooks. I own Soilutions. We're a composting facility in the South Valley of Albuquerque. I'm the founder and kind of chief visionary. They call me president. We're recyclers and we're also bacteria farmers. We've, we're capturing the power of bacteria which feed on air, water, carbon, and nitrogen. The nitrogen we find in horse manure and food waste, sometimes green leaves, sometimes trees and plants of other types that come in. Grass is another good source of nitrogen. If it's green, it's brown, it's carbon. So carbon it takes a lot of forms and it's easy to come by in the desert.

A lot of the plant material is dry and brown and that's primarily what we start with here. We grind it up, turn it into smaller pieces, and we mix that with horse manure and food waste. Avocados, bananas, pasta, it's all good. Anything that was ever once alive can be composted here. So as bacteria farmers, it's not just about all bacteria. There's bacteria that does all kinds of specialty work around our world. The bacteria that we're concerned with here are really bacteria and other microbials. Really small things that you can't see and it's a special kind of bacteria that likes oh heat because when we pile these things up the bacteria eats the food that they require to replicate, then they release heat.

Well that heat gets captured in her, and tthere's only certain bacteria that can handle that and we call them thermophilic bacteria, that's heat loving bacteria. So a lot of bacteria, like in our bodies, it's going to be dead as soon as you start to run a fever. You get over 98, you get 100 or 101, a lot of bacteria dies that are bad for human. But in a composting process, that bacteria that can handle, say, 130, 140, even 150 degrees. Some of our piles start off as high as 156 ° Fahrenheit. So, those bacteria are responsible for the heat that we have inside of this compost pile here. This is pretty warm. It's been composting for nearly two years and it's about 124 degrees.

There's about just about a foot inside of the pile and there's this gray material. It's a particular kind of bacteria called actino bacteria that's eating the wood. Now, we can't see the individual bacteria. They're too small. You'd have to have a microscope to actually see that bacteria or the colony of bacteria as it is on on a piece of wood such as this, but you don't see mushrooms. You don't see pretty much any of the decomposing bacteria and microbial life that you might see on a forest floor. If you were at the Sandia History Center, Sandia Mountain History Center, you might see forest floor that has similar attributes but it's not hot.

So, how come we don't see mushrooms as a decomposer for instance, right? We may have mushroom spores in here but they're not going to thrive yet because it's too warm right? They're going to want ambient temperature. They're going to want something closer to 50°. Maybe 60 degrees. When the soils too warm, mushrooms don't do great. They like it cool and they like a lot of material, lot of organic material, and a lot of cover and you'll see the mushroom head stick up but underneath might be miles of little strands of mycelia. They're great decomposers. They'll work in your backyard. They're not going to be in a commercial compost facility such as this.

Maybe after you put the compost in your soils and a year later, you might get mushrooms but not while it's actively decomposing. [Steven] So, we have an activity for you to do that's all about decomposers. Um it requires just some simple things from home. Food scraps and some plastic bags. They can be Ziploc bags like this. They can be food bags, bread bags. You just need to be able to close it up somehow, alright? So, two things, a bag that can close up and some food scraps. Here's some that we used to start ours off with.

We have orange peels and some beans and chicken leg. They're all very different things. Now, we we're keeping 'em sealed up in here so the moisture stays in there and also so the smell stays in there because we know that rotting things start to smell. You're going to keep an observation log again. This one looks a lot like the change over time one. Four columns. First one has the date and then the other three, each one is for the food item that you're going to use. If you want to do more, that's fine just turn the page and and make more columns. The dates are obvious.

What you're going to put though for each line going across on each date for the food items is how they've changed. So the first day on mine it was April 26th is when you put it in the bag. There should be no mold on it so write that down, no mold, no mold, no mold. Every day after that, when you check it, make sure you put the next date and then say how it's changed. If there's no mold on it just say there's no change or there's still no mold. If water ends up in the bag like on the surface of the bag from the moisture in that thing, put there's condensation on the bag.

That's what I did for the chicken bone on the second day. You can have a number of days go by, doesn't seem like they change at all and that's fin. The first change that I saw started happening was the juice in with the with the beans started turning a yellow color. So guess what I wrote down. Yeah I put the bean juice is turning yellow. It took a few days for some mold to show up on the orange peels, and even more days for the mold to start forming on the chicken leg.

So by the time I finished, which was not quite two weeks later, the chicken bone was covered in mold. The beans, it looked like yellow snot. So, guess what I wrote down on my observation log. Yeah, I said that the bean juice looks like it's snot. It's a good word to use. Um so, here's what they look like now. Let me start off with the orange peel. Yeah, you guys have seen moldy orange peels before. Here's the snotty beans. Yeah, doesn't it look like snot. Yuck. I never opened it. I'm not going to open it. Probably smells worse.

But here's the leg. I had to open this one because we couldn't see it there's so much mold on it! But check it out. It looks like it has hair. So what kind of description can you give it? Yeah you can say it has, it looks like it's covered in hair or fur, but it's just mold and this one it really smells, so I'm going to get this back in the bag. Alright so your observation log.

Make it go for maybe about two week. For sure you have to keep observing until you start seeing that mold growing in there, whether it's liquidy or or hairy like on the chicken leg and check it everyday. Here's one last thing for you to think about. What would the world be like with no decomposers?

Lesson 7, Part 2: Soil

Part two of a two-part series about decomposition and soil.

Lesson 7, Part 2 Video Transcript

[Steven] Let's spend a little bit of time looking at the place where all these detritovores and decomposers live, the soil. Um it's a little bit of a detour from what we've been talking about and it's important though because it's where these things spend their lives. Um so that that layer of stuff, the dead stuff on top of the ground. Do you remember what that was called?

Something matter. Organic matter. Yeah, organic matter. So, that's the first layer that we see. Underneath the layer of organic matter we have something called topsoil, and that's where like it starts to be recognizable as dirt, where you start to call, where you start to call it dirt, not so much of this obvious dead stuff like these pine needles on top.

Below the topsoil is something called subsoil, sub just like a submarine goes under the surface of the water. The subsoil is below the topsoil. Below the subsoil is something called the parent rock. So the parent rock is the broken up bits, the crumblies of of the rock. Now, the parent rock has broken off of something and it's part of something called bedrock.

You've probably heard bedrock before. It's like the bottom layer of soil. It's kind of where the stopper is between all the rock of the earth and the soil on top where where life grows. Um rock behind me is limestone. I've mentioned limestone a couple times. In the change over time video it was the kind of rock where all the fossils were and it was that big rock that I had my hand up against.

So limestone right here, it's the parent rock of the soil because there's lots of broken up bits. What we're going to do, we're going to go to the lab in just a moment after I take a sample, and I'll describe that in a second, and we're going to look at the sample that I take and we'll be able to see layers of of the soil.

So, what happens is that whatever the soil is made out of, if there's lots of sand in it, lots of clay or something like that, it'll show up in this way that we can test the composition of the soil. It's a really simple process. It's a scientific thing but we're going to not do it like, like you would in the laboratory.

We're going todo more of like science play, and we actually can learn a lot when we play. I had a professor in college. He's one of my favorite professors. His name was Dieter. He was German and one of the best lines that he ever had was this:

[in German accent] "ven ve play, ve learn, yah?" Here we are on the ground ready to take our soil sample. You'll just need a few things. Obviously, the first thing you're going to need is some place to dig. The next thing you're going to need is something to dig with. I have a garden trowel, you might have a spoon or something or of course, you might have a shovel, whatever is handy and as long as you have permission to use it, it'll work.

The last thing you'll need is a jar of some sort just make sure that you can close it up somehow because later on we're going to add water to this and it might get messy. Alright taking my lid off, have my jar ready. First thing I want to do, clear away our organic matter, the big stuff I should say, that's on the top. It'll get in the way this, especially this pine needles.

This stuff here? that's okay, we can work with that, but any kind of big, oh here's a big stick, any kind of stuff like this. Look at you can see how it's crumbling how it's being fragmented and decomposed. Big stuff just will get in the way of our jar, okay here we're set right there. Scrape away just a little bit, and now I'm going to dig down and loosen up., oh, I got a rock right there.

Oh, I got a big rock. Look at that. Of course, there's a rock in my way. That's okay I'll go next to it I'm just going to go down however far I can. This is where the play part comes in and not the science part because I'm not being very careful about how far down I am going. So here is a sampl. Iif you find any guys living in there try not to scoop them up. Leave them.

You can watch them for a little while but leave them to their own life. Alright. This is a good amount. We can already start to see when it's up against the glass there some different things that are in there and look, I have, I'm not sure what these are. See, look at that. We're playing, and what did Dieter say where we're going to do when we play? We learn. All these little things.

I don't know if they're seeds. I think they are seeds. They kind of look like bear corn seeds. Do you remember way back to the scat video? I showed you bear corn. They almost look like that. Kinda hard to tell. Interesting. Alright. What else is in there? Since I'm here, I see some roots here. Another rock down there.

You know what? I can make an observation by feeling. On top here, these pine needles, they're dead and dry. They're brown. What do you think happens to the soil as I'm digging deeper? I can notice two things.

One thing I notice is that there's moisture in there. Not like a puddle of water but just so it makes the dirt, the soil, sediment stick together in clumps but something about the temperature changes too. Yeah, I think everybody's experienced that before. It cools off. It's nice and cool down there. It'd be a good place to have a tunnel on a hot day. I'm not going to leave the hole like this in the forest.

That's kind of obnoxious and rude. So, I'm going to bury it back up. Let everybody that was doing business down there keep doing their business, there we go. Alright next stop is going to be our lab where I'm going to mix some water with this and show you what happens. Back from the forest in our lab right now. Uh before we move on, I just want to make sure that it's clear what it is that we're going to be doing and what we've talked about.

What I was talking about before, right before the collecting the soil sample, was the layering of the soil. At the very top we have all the dead stuff, the organic matter. Below that we have what's called the topsoil. Underneath the topsoil is the subsoi,l then we come to the parent rock, the broken up rock, and then the bed rock at the bottom, the solid rock that the parent rock came from.

That is similar and it's related to what we're going to do right now but it's not the same thing. What we're doing is taking it's kind of a mixture of that of some of the organic matter in the top soil because we didn't dig down really far. That's what we're going to be looking at. Just that very top layer without all that dead leaves, with all the dead leaves and everything, and just checking it out, just to see what it looks like and what type of stuff is in there, like clay and silt and sand and that kind of thing.

Um here is that soil sample that I took. It's in that jar I showed you. Since we have some other things down here in the lab that you'll have at home. I just want to show you so that you'll understand you can pretty much use whatever. This is just a plastic container. This is perfectly good to use. Here is just an old jar that had green chile in it.

Took the label off. The thing is we need to be able to cover it, to close it up somehow. I know sometimes lids get tossed, jars get tossed separately, and then we lose the lid. If you just don't have a lid, guess what you can use: a bag. So you'll be able to put the bag over it and rubber band it like that. It all it is is to just prevent the spill from happening, just to keep it from getting too messy.

Okay. So, back to this. Here's our sample that we took out in the forest. I'm going to take the lid off. I'm going to put a little bit of water in there. Well, probably not just a little bit. Up to about here. Not all the way up to the top because then it gets too messy potentially. It's not all mixed up yet.

You can use a spoon or whatever. It's all mixed up. I can feel it down there, stuff wants to sink down immediately, other stuff's going to float. So what uh what kind of things are going to sink down? Yeah the heavy things like rocks and things like that. What we're going to end up, and now that it's, this one's really nice, tightly sealed. Shake, shake, shake. I'm going to shake it up.

Just looks like, looks like coffee doesn't. This is going to have to sit overnight most likely until you see some results. It's been a day now since we took our soil samples. Let's look at 'em. This one looks kind of looks kind of yucky. We have a bunch of organic matter floating in here, remember because the ground had so much, and then we have the dirt at the bottom.

The dirt is broken up into a few different layers. What I'm going to describe to you is the soil structure of this sample. The soil structure is how much clay, silt, and sand, and other particles like that that are in there. So of course we have, like I said, the organic matter in the wate. I see a very thin layer, it's light colored, it's the lightest color in this jar, that thin layer is clay. The next layer I can barely tell the difference between it and the rest of it, but I see it. It is silt. It's a little more coarse, which means the particles are bigger than the clay, and then near the bottom we have mostly sand.

Those are larger particles Um so, which is the lightest out of all this? The organic matter, clay, silt, or sand? Well, the organic matter because it's still floating. Now, out of the dirt stuff, what's the lightest? The clay because it's on the top layer which means it was floating in the water the longest and what's the heaviest? The sand because it sunk right away. After you do this, check it out. I'd like you to record your results.

Do you remember the observation log that you did with Vince for the change over time video? Well, it's observations but it looks a little different. It's called soil structure. Soil structures up at the top and then sample one, sample two, sample three, it all depends how many you have and then a description of what the area was like where you got it from. So real quick, this sample, sample one was taken from the Sandia Mountains. The area was surrounded by ponderosa pine trees and oak trees.

There were many limestone rocks nearby and lots of organic matter on the ground, which describes why there's so much here. And then the fun part, at least I always think so, is the drawing. You're just drawing a picture of our sample, but more importantly you are putting labels to these different layers so that somebody else will know what it is that they're looking at.

I drew and labeled the organic matter, and of course the water, the little fine thin layer of clay is there, and I gave it some diagonal lines so it'll look different, then the layer of silt below it, I shaded it and put some speckles in it, and then the sand layer I just put speckles.

So everything looks different and unique from one another. We have a picture, a way of seeing the difference, and the words. I also used the ruler and did a little bit of measuring just so I could get it fairly accurate for the thicknesses of these different pieces, or these different elements in the soil.

Review and Final Project

This is the final video in the Sandia Mountain Natural History Center's virtual field trip series.

Review and Final Project Transcript

[Steven] Vince and I are here to wrap up our seven videos that we've done with you. We're going to go over each of the videos very quickly and then we're going to tell you about a project that you're going to work on and show you how to do it and what you'll need to know.

So going back to our very first video, when we did an introduction to ecosystems, you might remember this. This gives us two terms up at the top, biotic and abiotic. If you remember, biotic are the living and dead things in an ecosystem and abiotic are the things that cannot be alive in an ecosystem.

[Vince] In lesson two, we looked more closely at abiotic and biotic factors. If you remember, we created a four square chart where we talked about abiotic, different kinds of abiotic things like sun, air, water, and soil, and we learned that the biotic things can be divided into categories, like producers, consumers, and decomposers.

[Steven] In lesson three, we learned about consumers and their scat. Do you remember this big piece of animal scat? The animal was a bear. So, with the animal scat, with the bear scat, we learned about what that bear eats and we can do that with many animals.

If we can learn what the animal eats by looking at its scat, we can figure out if it's an omnivore, a carnivore, or an herbivore. Our project for that one was to make scat. So, you might some of the scat samples that I showed you. But in those scat samples, we had either acorn shells or peanut shells, maybe pieces of plant or fur.

[Vince] In lesson four, we looked more closely at consumers. Specifically trying to determine how different kinds of consumers have adapted to their food sources, looking at omnivores, carnivores, and herbivores. We focused on their teeth structure as well as their eye placement.

Your activity in this lesson was to find some food sources some natural food sources and think about what kinds of consumers might eat them, draw pictures of their teeth structure, as well as writing a story about a consumer and how it survives and adapts to its given ecosystem.

[Steven] In video five, Vince talked to you about producers, specifically leaves. Remember, the purpose of leaves is to absorb the sun's energy to produce food for the plant which also ends up food for the animals. That was polished off by making a leaf book with leaf rubbings and labels for the parts of the leaves.

[Vince] So in lesson six, we focused specifically on abiotic factors and how they impact ecosystems and force them to change over time. Specifically, we talked about fire, flooding, erosion, weather, and climate and how fossils are evidence of ecosystems changing over time. In this lesson, your activity was to create an observation log where you looked at several different kinds of abiotic things and how they changed over time.

[Steven] Video seven was broken into two parts. The first part was all about decomposition, decomposers, fungi and bacteria. We learned what they do to the dead stuff in the forest. What you did was take a food scrap, put it in a bag, and observe how it decomposed and then you wrote down your observations in your journal. In the second part of that video, you learned about soil.

What's in it, where it comes from, the different parts. We took a soil sample, put it in a jar with some water, and you observed it. Then, you described where you got that soil from, it's different parts and illustrated a picture of that soil sample. All those things together, they make an ecosystem.

The thing to remember though about an ecosystem or any kind of is that they all have a bunch of parts to them. Um whether it's a solar system, an ecosystem, a sound system, game system, there's not just one thing, there's lots of things. Every kind of system has a bunch of parts that are working together to make something happen.

[Vince] Those parts in an ecosystem are abiotic things and biotic things. Abiotic things like sun, air, water, and soil and biotic things like producers, consumers, and decomposers. Now, how do those interact within the ecosystem? Well, they interact as energy moves through the system. The energy comes from the sun. So, producers use the sun's energy as they go through photosynthesis and convert that energy into food for the consumers.

The consumers eat food, no matter where they get their food, and then the decomposers break down the dead producers and consumers using their energy. [Steven] Now, energy is not the only thing that flows through an ecosystem. Stuff has to grow and to be able to do that, living things need to add to their body. Whether it's a plant or an animal. Um that stuff is matter. Producers, plants, they get the matter to add to themselves from the air, from the water, carbon dioxide, the carbon in the air.

Animals or consumers get the matter that they need to grow from eating either producers or other animals, other consumers and the decomposers, well they get their matter from the dead stuff that they come across on the forest floor.

[sounds of rocks crunching under shoes]

[Vince] So, I was out collecting. What do you think I was collecting? Let's take a look. Got a juniper stem. I've also got some flowers on its stem as well. I've got a dried up dead leaf. Got an old chewed up pine cone. So what else? Uh we've got some juniper berry seeds that are dried up. Got some pieces of bark, mulch, branches, and as I go further in, got some rocks, whole bunch of rocks that I collected and then, at the bottom, I've got some dirt. So, what are all these things?

They're all parts of the ecosystem, aren't they? And each piece represents different parts. So, we've got the dirt and the rocks that represent abiotic things. We've got juniper branch, some flowers, pine cone representing producers. Notice that I don't have anything really here that represents a consumer except the pine cone has been eaten a little bit and you can maybe see the hole inside that pine cone.

Where did that come from? Probably an insect. Something was eating on it. And then we need something to represent decomposers. Well, we've got this dead leaf, it's eventually going to get decomposed. What's all over that dead leaf? That's right, bacteria, which is a decomposer. So, I've got things that represent all parts of an ecosystem.

[Steven] You'll be doing a project and for that project, you'll need to go outside and collect a variety of things just like we saw Vince do. So, those things will need to be some abiotic stuff, producers, something to do with decomposers and something to do with consumers. Um let's take a look at what I did so that you can have a better idea about what I'm trying to explain.

You have to have something in your display that symbolizes a consumer. Well if you have a pet you can give them some pets and you can get some of their fur and place in there. There we have some consumer evidence. We can say that there was an animal sleeping there over the night that left its fur behind. Sometimes they leave behind scat.

Well if you made some fake scat, like we did in video three, you can put that in there. Here's some rabbit scat that we can put in there and remember, it's fake rabbit scat. It was a scat that we made.

Decomposers are also a challenge because we can't usually see them. If you have some mushrooms in the refrigerator, fine. You can put a mushroom in there and that will work perfectly but if you don't, if as long as you find some dead plant stuff, there's like little twigs in here, little dead pieces of leaves and stuff.

Well, if there's dead things there, what also is there? That's right, there's decomposers. So, if we find dead plant stuff, put it in there and you got your decomposers. Now, collecting those things and putting em in a cool little setting, that's kind of the easy part. What you have to do after you get this done is be able to explain the flow of matter and energy through this ecosystem or in other words, how are these different things interacting with one another to keep it moving as a system. Now, here's a challenge.

You're going to also pick three things out of your little ecosystem and one at a time, remove that thing and explain how that's going to affect the ecosystem.

[Vince] We prefer that you not do exactly what we did. Instead, we would like you to be creative and have some fun with developing your model of an ecosystem and how it functions. So, if you can go outside and collect some things, that would be great but if you can't, maybe you can do it inside.

Maybe you can find different parts of an ecosystem within where you live. Perhaps you can make a video or draw pictures. Whatever it is that you decide to do for your project, have some fun with it and be creative. But just remember the four key components of an ecosystem and explaining how matter and energy flow through that ecosystem.

Once you're finished with your project, have an adult share your project on our social media pages or send us an email. We'd love to hear from you.