Muir Web (MEER web): a visualization of habitat relationships and ecological associations. John Muir was a famous naturalist and conservationist.
Students will form a circle, holding their species profiles so that everyone can see them. They will represent this species in the ecosystem. Tell them that you are going to try to create a web of life, and that for this game the teacher will be the sun.
Hold the ball of yarn in your hands and, holding one end, pass it to phytoplankton. Explain that the sun provides energy that many species need to survive.
Have phytoplankton introduce themselves and tell what they need to survive and what needs them to survive.
Phytoplankton will pass the ball of yarn to one of the species that relies on them, while continuing to hold their portion of the yarn.
From then on, species who receive the yarn may pass it to any other species that they need to survive or that needs them to survive. Remind them to explain why they are passing the yarn to a certain species. Species may receive the yarn more than once; these often represent important species in an ecosystem. The yarn continues around and across the circle.
Explain that this Muir Web represents a natural ecosystem. Ask students what species in this ecosystem are particularly important. The oysters are a keystone species – providing a habitat for many of the species. Ask students to predict what would happen if one of these important species were removed from the ecosystem.
Ask different species to gently pull their piece of yarn. Ask anyone who felt the tug to raise their hand.
Choose one of the important species and remove it from the web. On the count of three, with all the yarn pulled tight, have the important species drop all their bits of yarn. Ask if other species felt one of the pieces of yarn in their hand go slack as a result. Then have those species let go of their yarn. Continue until the web has fallen apart.
Debrief: End with a discussion that may include the following questions:
What happens when a species is removed from the ecosystem?
What species are humans connected to in the web?
How would humans be impacted if those species were removed?
How might humans impact this ecosystem? For example, global warming, unsustainable use of resources, pollution, overharvesting, development, etc., may disrupt food chains and cause habitat loss, damaging ecosystems.
Define biodiversity. Why is it important to maintain biodiversity in ecosystems?
What choices can humans make to maintain biodiversity?