Activity 2: Wetland Wonders

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Activity 2: Wetland WondersBackground:SummaryStudents explore the components of awetland and design a wetland energypyramid.ObjectivesStudents will be able to:ooooooDescribe a wetlandIdentify biotic and abioticcomponents of a wetlandUnderstand the differentlevels of an energy pyramidfor a wetlandDesign an energy pyramid fora wetlandExplore where WhoopingCranes fit into a wetlandenergy pyramidUnderstand what an“umbrella species” isStandardsEnvironmental Education B.8.6English Language Arts CCSS.ELALITERACY.W.8.1Materials Needed:o Copies of “What’s in aooooWetland?” worksheetCopies of “Energy Pyramid”worksheetWhooping Crane food box(in crane trunk)PencilsClipboardsEcosystems are made up of both biotic (living or once-living) andabiotic (non-living) factors. For example, biotic factors in a forestwould be raccoons, trees, birds, and squirrels. Examples of abioticfactors are soil, sunshine, wind, and rocks.All organisms require energy to grow and reproduce. An energypyramid is one way of describing how organisms relate to each otherbased on their energy consumption. Organisms are placed at differenttrophic (energy) levels in an energy pyramid depending on what theyeat and where they get their energy. Trophic levels indicate anorganism’s position in the food chain. The different trophic levels aremade up of producers, consumers, and decomposers. The organismson each trophic level get their energy by consuming organisms onlower levels.Producers are organisms that get their energy from the sun. Theseorganisms produce their own food through photosynthesis.Photosynthesis combines water and carbon dioxide to produceglucose. The energy from the sun is a catalyst for this process.Carrots, roses, algae, and grass are examples of producers.Consumers are organisms that get their energy from consumingother organisms. There are three different levels of consumers in anecosystem: primary, secondary, and tertiary.1. Primary consumers are organisms that eat producers.Primary consumers are herbivores, animals that eat onlyplants and vegetation. Rabbits are an example of primaryconsumers.2. Secondary consumers are organisms that eat primaryconsumers. Secondary consumers can be carnivores (animalsthat eat only meat) or omnivores (animals that eat both meatand plants). Whooping Cranes and snakes are examples ofsecondary consumers.3. Tertiary consumers are organisms that eat primary andsecondary consumers. They can either be carnivores oromnivores. Bobcats are tertiary consumers because they eatWhooping Cranes. Owls are tertiary consumers because theyeat snakes.Decomposers are organisms that eat dead material in an ecosystem and help break it down into smallerpieces. Have you ever wondered why a log begins to disintegrate into smaller pieces over time? It is becauseProduced under a 2006-2007 grant from the Wisconsin Environmental Education Board33

Activity 2: Wetland Wondersdecomposers are hard at work breaking down the log. Often, decomposers are too small to see without themagnification of a microscope. Fungi, bacteria, and earthworms are examples of decomposers.As we move up the trophic levels, there is less and less energy available for animals to use. This decrease inavailable energy occurs because there is not a 100% transfer of energy when an organism on one level eatsan organism on a lower level. In other words, not all of the energy is transferred to the consumer. Forexample, when a rabbit eats a patch of grass, not all of the energy in the grass gets incorporated into therabbit. Some of it goes to helping the rabbit perform everyday functions like moving and breathing. Some ofit is simply lost. Then, when a fox eats a rabbit, some of the energy is lost again, so the pyramid becomeseven narrower.As we move from one trophic level to another, the amount of energy available for organisms to consumedecreases by a factor of 10. If the producers (grass) have 10,000 kilocalories of available energy per squaremeter per year (kcal/m2/yr), the primary consumers (rabbits) only have 1,000 kcal/m2/yr, the secondaryconsumers (fox) have 100 kcal/m2/yr, and the tertiary consumers only have 10 kcal/m2/yr. Becauseavailable energy decreases, there are fewer and fewer consumers as we move up the energy pyramid. A lot ofproducers are required to support a smaller number of herbivores and even fewer carnivores andomnivores.Below is an example of an energy pyramid that might be found in a wetland:Produced under a 2006-2007 grant from the Wisconsin Environmental Education Board34

Activity 2: Wetland WondersWhooping Cranes are omnivores. They have a broad diet that consists of both plants and animals. Someexamples of producers consumed by Whooping Cranes are grains, tubers, rhizomes, and berries. Primaryand secondary consumers include terrestrial insects (especially grasshoppers), fish, frogs, and aquaticinvertebrates. Whooping Cranes are often found in mudflats or shallow wetland areas where water levelshave dropped so they can feed on animals that have been trapped in the remaining water. It appears thatWhooping Cranes are especially fond of bullheads, crayfish, tadpoles, and blueberries in their breedinggrounds.In their wintering grounds along the Gulf Coast, Whooping Cranes rely heavily on blue crabs forsustenance. Blue crabs are an abundant resource that is rich in protein. Blue crabs need fresh water fromstreams mixing with the salty water in the coastal bays in order to survive. In years that are stricken withdrought, not enough fresh water reaches the coast so the blue crabs are forced to move upstream. Whenthis happens, Whooping Cranes have a hard time finding enough food to eat and some perish. Alternatefood sources include wolfberries and acorns.Bullheads are a major component of theWhooping Crane’s diet when they spend thesummers in Wisconsin. Photo: MI DNRBlue crabs are an important source of proteinfor Whooping Cranes along the Gulf Coast.Photo: National Oceanic and AtmosphericAdministration/Department of CommerceWhooping Cranes eat a lot of crayfishwhen they are available. Photo: WI DNRIn Texas, wolfberries are an important part of a WhoopingCrane’s diet, especially during drought years. Photo: StenPorse, license CC-BY 3.0Produced under a 2006-2007 grant from the Wisconsin Environmental Education Board35

Activity 2: Wetland WondersWetlands are important to many species. Whooping Cranes depend on both plant and animal life found inwetlands. Whooping Cranes are considered an umbrella species. When wetlands are conserved for anendangered species, such as Whooping Cranes, other species benefit from that protection.This is an illustration of a coastal wetland in Texas. By setting aside land for WhoopingCranes, whole ecosystems are preserved. Image used with permission from the Texas Parks and WildlifeDepartment.Procedure1)Have students write a paragraph or two describing what they think a wetland is (including a list ofthe types of organisms that they think they would find in a wetland) and explaining the importanceof wetlands.2)Visit a wetland and have students record what they see using the “What’s in a Wetland?” worksheetlist the biotic and abiotic factors in a wetland.3)Using the list of organisms that they observed and would expect to observe in a wetland, havestudents create an energy pyramid of a wetland ecosystem on the “Energy Pyramid” worksheet.Where do Whooping Cranes fit in this energy pyramid?4)Students should examine the food items in the food box. How is the sample of crane chow (which isfed to cranes in captivity) different from what cranes would eat in the wild?Produced under a 2006-2007 grant from the Wisconsin Environmental Education Board36

Activity 2: Wetland WondersExtensions:1)Students can make an energy pyramid based on what they consume. Have the students keep track ofeverything that they eat in one day and make an energy pyramid. Where do they fit in? Is thereanything that can eat them?Produced under a 2006-2007 grant from the Wisconsin Environmental Education Board37

Activity 2: Wetland WondersName:What’s in a Wetland?Biotic FactorsPlantsAbiotic FactorsAnimalsAre there other organisms that live in a wetland that you didn’t see while you were visiting it?List those organisms below. Why do you think you didn’t see them?Produced under a 2006-2007 grant from the Wisconsin Environmental Education Board38

Activity 2: Wetland WondersName:Wetlands Energy PyramidTertiaryConsumersDecomposersSecondary ConsumersPrimary ConsumersProducersProduced under a 2006-2007 grant from the Wisconsin Environmental Education Board39

list the biotic and abiotic factors in a wetland. 3) Using the list of organisms that they observed and would expect to observe in a wetland, have students create an energy pyramid of a wetland ecosystem on the “Energy Pyramid” worksheet.

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