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Bison - Keystone Species

Updated: Mar 9, 2022

Where in Walt Disney World can you find bison? Did you know Disneyland Paris has a dinner show with bison in it? Disney and Bison are an interesting duo. Read on to lean about bison as a keystone species and what resources (video, books and web sites) are available to you and your students to learn about the American Bison and stay to the end for the Disney connections!

The bison, sometimes referred to as the buffalo, is iconic in Western lore and history. Lewis and Clark first told of the "buffalo" they encountered while exploring the American West. American hero "Buffalo Bill" Cody made his reputation by hunting bison to feed the workers building the railroad and then transforming his skills into a "Wild West Show" that toured the world. American and the bison will forever be historically intertwined.

This blog post is a curated list for you to use when teaching about bison either in conjunction with keystone species lessons or as an investigation of bison from a scientific perspective. We will also link this topic to the Walt Disney World Resort for on site connections and learning opportunities.


Return of the American Bison (Length - 14:16 minutes)

This video provides a historical perspective of the American Bison.  This is a wonderful introduction to the importance of the species both ecologically and socially. It is a great way to introduce the Bison (or Buffalo) to children in Grade 3 and up.

Bison:  The American Legend  (length 2:54 minutes)

This National Geographic video is a quick overview of the amazing Bison and the role they play in the prairie ecosystem. Grade 2 and up.

American Bison (Length 4:30 minutes) This video produced by Hinterland Who's who in partnership with the Canadian government gives facts about the two subspecies of bison found in Canada, examines the role they play in the ecosystem, their importance to the indigenous peoples of the region, and conservation efforts.  Grade K and up.



Bison by Quinn M. Arnold Grades: Preschool - K Summary: A kindergarten-level introduction to bison, covering their growth process, behaviors, the forests and grasslands they call home, and such defining features as their shaggy fur. Review: This is a great series known for large photos and one sentence text. Important vocabulary words are highlighted and defined. Very engaging for the young learners and a good resource for ELL students as well. I love that additional resources are linked at the end of the book, both web sites and more advanced books.

American Bison by Steve Potts Grades: Preschool - 1 Summary: Simple text and full-color photographs provide a brief introduction to America Bison.  Review: This is a great book for emerging readers with large photos or illustrations, maps and simple text. This book includes a Table of Contents, and Index. It has several sentence on each page. Very engaging for the young learners and a good resource for ELL students as well. Additional resources are linked at the end of the book, both web sites and more advanced books.

American Bison (Back from near Extinction) by Anita Yasuda Grades:4-8 Summary: American bison are an icon of the American West, but they nearly disappeared forever. American Bison reveals the importance of America's national mammal to the West, how hunting in the 1800's nearly led to its extinction, and how people are using science to save the species. Features include a table of contents, infographics, a glossary, additional resources, and an index. Review: This late elementary resource provides well organized content on this keystone species struggle for existence. Additional information is provided using sidebars, allowing the flow of the book's topic to remain focused on, "Back From Near Extinction". This fantastic book also provides excerpts from source documents and challenge activities tied to them. I highly recommend this book.

Living Wild Bison by Melissa Gish Grades: 5-8 Summary: A look at bison, including their habitats, physical characteristics such as their shaggy coats, behaviors, relationships with humans, and threatened status in the world today. Review: This is an outstanding series of science books for middle school. Bison combines beautiful photographs with scientific facts. An extensive chapter on the cultural context has been included. Bison's special place in the lives of indigenous peoples is explored as well as the bison's use as a symbol in Canadian and US culture.  A chapter on rebuilding the herds provides a historical perspective with some limited scientific information. Overall a good resource for the keystone species of bison for advanced elementary and middle school students. I would use this book together with American Bison, Back From Near Extinction.


Web Sites

15 Facts About Our National Mammal: The American Bison - A great source of facts provided by the US Department of the Interior. Canadian Encyclopedia Bison Entry Another source of facts about the bison by the Canadian Encyclopedia a well known and respected source of information. Wildlife that Depend on Wild Bison • The National Wildlife Federation Blog This blog from the National Wildlife Federation provides information on the various parts of the ecosystem that support the idea of Bison being a keystone species. The Keystone Role of Bison in North American Tallgrass Prairie  This is a link to a scholarly article in the BioScience Journal from January 1999.  It is a university research paper that will provide you and your high school student with a primary source document to examine. Why Is The Bison A Keystone Species? This a site that a gentleman has put together with lots of great facts and information about the bison.  I would use this as a teaching tool about internet resources, sources and how to cross check facts.  


Did any of you remember where you have seen Bison at Walt Disney World? Bison appear as topiaries and symbols around Disney's Wilderness Lodge. Bison are featured in Living with the Land in Epcot's The Land. One activity to do when riding Living with the Land is to see how Disney portrays the Bison and it's role in the prairie ecosystem.

Here is a ride through video from the Touring Plans website to help you remember. The mighty hooves of the buffalo...

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