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Using a cascading food web case study to assess the ecological and economic impacts of management decisions

As informed citizens, students should be able to understand and interpret the value of a working ecosystem and the cascading implications of disturbances. We use a case study to introduce students to complex ecological interactions, the value of ecosystem services and how management decisions can affect them. The case described by Spencer et al. (1991) illustrates cascading food web dynamics in the Flathead Lake, MT, ecosystem before and after human alteration. It provides students with a real-world example which enables them to apply their knowledge of basic ecological concepts, build an appreciation for the complexity of ecosystems, and deal with ecosystem services in a concrete context. Students will learn to model cascading food web interactions and the associated changes due to human interventions.

This case serves as a building block for students to develop modeling skills that illustrate complex ecological interactions and synthesize information from the literature.
Cumulative Rating: This resource has a 5 star rating (based on 4 responses)
Primary or BEN resource type
Discipline Specific Core Concepts
Life science discipline (subject)
Keywords ecosystem services, food web cascade, management, conservation, modeling, learning cycle, think-pair-share
Intended End User Role
Educational Language
Pedagogical Use Description This active learning exercise uses a learning cycle approach, which is an instructional design used to engage students with a question or problem, explore the problem interactively, and then explain the ecological significance of the results. This design allows students to construct their own understanding during the investigation while participating in scientific inquiry. As a result of participating in this activity students will identify and describe ecosystem services, create a model of a food web that includes the biotic interactions, predicted outcomes of disturbances related to management decisions, and explain the change or loss of ecosystem services due to disturbances within an ecosystem. The topic of ecosystem services can be controversial and often difficult to introduce without bias. However, using the scientific literature as an active teaching tool provides students with an evidence-based example and guided practice with reading scientific literature.
Primary Author Controlled Name
Primary Author Affiliation Michigan State University
Primary Author email,
Secondary Author Name(s) Allison Rober and Paula de Tezanos Pinto
Secondary Author Affiliation(s) Michigan State University
Secondary Author Email(s),
Rights Authors retain copyright.
Date Of Record Submission 2010-07-16

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