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REEFS 2012

REEFS is a reoccurring event held during ESA’s Annual Meeting. It is organized jointly by ESA’s Office of Education and Diversity and the Education Section.

The following resources were presented during the REEFS Session at the 2012 ESA Annual Meeting.

Learning Activities

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There’s a Hair in My Dirt!: Using a Humorous Story as Touchstone for Ecological Learning

Author: Jeff Corney; University of Minnesota, ude.nmunull@yenrocj
Activity type: Learning Activity
Audience level: undergraduate students
Abstract: I have students read Gary Larson’s There’s a Hair in My Dirt! A Worm’s Story. Students are asked to write a two-page essay discussing what ecological principles and details Larson accurately portrays in this story and what principles and details are now quite accurate, and to explain their rationale as to why or why not. We then use class time to share and discuss students’ critical analysis of this book. This is a fun “rainy day” exercise that intrigues students because at first glance it comes across as humorous, but once engaged students discover that there is a lot of real ecological science packed into this little story.

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The Evolution of Sustainable Use

Author: Christopher X J. Jensen, Pratt Institute, ude.ttarpnull@nesnejc
Activity type: Learning Activity, Laboratory Exercise
Audience level: undergraduate students
Abstract: This is a flash-based classroom tool for teaching population biology and sustainable resource management. This activity allows students to explore population growth, the tragedy of the commons, and how cooperation evolves using a simple web-based interface with robust dynamics.

This resource is available on EcoEd Digital Library:
Jensen , CXJ. 2013. The Sustainable Use of Fisheries. EcoEd Digital Library,

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Field Methods and Field Craft for Environmental Researchers

Author: Natalie Hunt, University of Wisconsin-Madison, ude.csiwnull@tnuhn
Activity type: Field Course
Audience level: undergraduate students
Abstract: This is an interactive course that introduces new field researchers to the logistical and conceptual aspects of embarking on a field research project. We mix lecture on fundamental concepts of research, GIS, GPS, qualitative and quantitative methods with hands on work such as map/compass navigation, data collection, field craft (fire building, water procurement), field first aid, and survival skills. I would be happy to participate in this workshop to share what we do, and to learn more about how we can improve our course.

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Trophic efficiency in caterpillars as a model ecosystem

Author: Christopher Picone, Fitchburg State, ude.etatsgrubhctifnull@enocipc
Activity type: laboratory exercise
Audience level: undergraduate students
Abstract: This lab is based on an exercise in a book (Jones 2002, in McComas, 2002), later adapted by folks at Rowan Univ., and then shamelessly stolen by me and tweaked a bit more.

Students feed tobacco hornworms some food source(s), weighing what goes in and then weighing what comes out (waste, body mass). The original exercise focused on measurements ofvarious efficiencies (feeding efficiency, assimilation efficiency, production efficiency, trophic efficiency). What I like about this lab is that there are some hand-on lessons lurking beneath those (boring?) calculations.</p?

  1. Students get a great sense of just how much WASTE herbivores produce. This is something we talk about with food webs, etc., but it really hit home when you have to weigh insect frass.
  2. Students confront the fact that things don’t add up. The weight of added food does not come out simply as frass and caterpillar growth, of course. So… where did the rest go? This exercise as tied in nicely with the work I have been doing with Charlene D’Avanzo, Andy Anderson, et al, on tracing matter and energy in biology. Students can eventually SEE that mass is lost via respiration of CO2 and water. (Well… many see it…)
  3. This is a tiny model ecosystem, with producers and herbivores, with frass and uneaten food going to decomposers (we compost everything in my labs). Decomposers need more attention in most ecology classes.
  4. I have tweaked the lab design from Rowan to include some options for students to choose as experimental treatments, but in reality we have mostly just compared commercially available food to tomato leaves as food sources. I am sure some innovative ideas will emerge from the small group session

Note, the original lab idea (Jones 2002) includes calculating dry weights to account for water loss from evaporation. That step has been lost in our adaptations. I would be interested in seeing if the group thinks it is really necessary.

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