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Ecosystems and Keystone Species - Resources and Lesson Plans

Updated: Mar 9, 2022

Ecosystems are a science topic that is revisited throughout many grades. The specific concept of a Keystone species within an ecosystem was introduced by Ecologist Robert Paine in the the 1960's. Named after the keystone in an arch, a keystone species role in an ecosystem is that it holds the system together. If you took this species out of the ecosystem the entire ecosystem would be very different or might not exist. Being able to identify and save these keystones species will help save all the other species within that ecosystem.

There is an abundance of lesson plans and resources that already exist to teach about ecosystems to elementary and middle school students. Instead of reinventing these lessons I will provide you with links to some of my favorite resources.

Walt Disney World is a great place to teach about Keystone Species and has recreated several different ecosystems with the parks. In my next blog post I will provided specific resources to use at home prior to a trip to Walt Disney World to investigate a keystone species that lives within reach of your backyard. Then we will look at opportunities to study keystone species in the other ecosystems represented at Walt Disney World.

Ecosystem Resources

UNC Institute for the Environment - Center for Public Engagement with Science - 5th Grade Life Science: Ecosystems Unit - This unit was developed for the Chapel Hill Carrboro City Schools in North Carolina in partnership with University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Institute for the Environment. This has 15 learning activities.

Mensa Education and Research Foundation - Grade 5 Ecosystem Lesson Plans -This is a set of lesson plans that can be used to extend the basic curriculum. These are great as well for independent work for gifted children within the classroom or for homeschooling. It include a grading rubric.

Climate Kids - 10 Interesting Things about Ecosystems - This is produced by the Earth Science Communications Team at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology -

Keystone Species Resources:

National Geographic - Introduction to Keystone Species - Lesson Plan for Grades 3-5 "Students are introduced to ecosystems, food webs, and keystone species. They draw a simple food web and predict the impact keystone species have on an ecosystem."

National Geographic - Keystone Species - This is a basic encyclopedia entry of factual information. Grades 3-8.

National Geographic - Role of Keystone Species - You can choose the grade level of the text which provides factual information.- Grade 3, 5, 6,7,9,10 and 12.

Nature Education - Keystone Species - A good middle school reference.

Conserve Energy Future - Examples of Keystone Species - This article highlights examples of keystone species in their respective ecosystem along with their respective roles.

NRDC - Keystone Species 101 - This is a good late elementary to middle school resource.

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