A fun outdoor science activity that let's you measure the biodiversity of living things in your backyard ecosystem!
Many times, you'll hear kids say "hey, there's a bird!" or "this is the tallest tree in our yard!"
This activity takes it one step further to inspire kids to notice the DIFFERENT types of trees, plants, animals and insects that live right outside their window!
And for today's activity, we're partnering with an awesome group of blogs for Storybook Science - projects that connect picture books to science activities for kids!
Outdoor Science: How Bio-Diverse is Your Backyard?
One of my favorite things about this outdoor science project is it gets kids looking more in depth at their own backyard ecosystem!
And ecosystem, in its' simpliest terms, is an area where a variety of organisms interact.
You can use this project anywhere: your yard, in the classroom with students, at your home even if you don't have a yard or at a local park.
For your area, you'll have trees and plants that are growing, insects that visit to feed and pollinate, birds that fly through or nest in the area, possibly small animals that live in trees or burrows and, of course, the humans that visit the backyard too!
Yes, you should count the humans because we have quite an impact (sometimes positive and sometimes negative) on an ecosystem and its' biodiversity -- but we'll get to that later ;)
What is Biodiversity?
Biodiversity is the variety of life in an area or ecosystem -- for this activity, we'll focus on the different types of living organisms you have in your own backyard.
Of course, since this is a Storybook Science series, one of the ways to introduce the idea of biodiversity is with a book or two!
Here are two wonderful books that are perfect --
Many: The Diversity of Life on Earth is a beautiful look at life both big and small! The book shows the reader how living things are all around us even when we can't see them with the naked eye and compares life in different climates, animals that might look the same but are really different and ecosystems support (or limit) the diversity of living things.
Out of School and Into Nature: The Anna Comstock Story is an NSTA Outstanding Science Book award winner! It's the story of a young girl who loved nature, went on to become an artist & scientist and used her skills to show people what the details of nature looked like -- the variety of bugs and plants that actually existed. And she became the first person to develop a nature-study program for teachers so that outdoor nature programs could be integrated into the school curriculum.
Measure Your Backyard Biodiversity
Biodiversity changes for every home and even with the seasons!
For example, we have less birds that visit our backyard during the winter than we do during the Spring and Summer.
If you live in a colder area, you'll have more flowering plants during the warmer months which will attract more insects to your yard.
And families who live near the ocean will have different plants, animals and insects in their yard than those families who live in the mountains.
To measure your Backyard Biodiversity:
- Print off the FREE worksheet at the end of this post
- Head outside with the worksheet & a pencil to count the various items living or visiting your backyard!
You want to count both the types of items (species) and the number of each.
Here's our example for trees we have:
2 - pine trees
2 - oak trees
1 - lilac tree
1 hedge tree
So we have 4 species of trees and 6 total trees. You'll need to have both numbers when you calculate your biodiversity index -- which tells you how diverse your yard is and allows you to compare it to other areas.
You'll be counting all the trees, plants, animals and insects you find in your specific area.
I've included a few hints on the worksheet (for example, if you don't have leaves on your trees, look at tree bark or seeds to compare which are different). And don't worry if you don't know the name of a specific plant, tree or animal -- we wrote down "blue bird' when we saw this guy -- not sure which kind but he was the only one of his kind (or species) that was visiting the yard.
The little images on the worksheet are only a fun guide for kids to get them thinking -- many of us probably won't find a turtle in our backyard (although some will!) -- and if you have a small pond, you'll want to look for frogs and fish too!
Your count could take a while if you have a highly diverse area!
Be sure to put a date on your worksheet so you know when you recorded the items! Some things won't change much (like your tree count) but others (such as flowering plants) will change a LOT from season to season.
You can see that we had some birds and small animals visiting on the day we did our count but we didn't find any insects at all!
Now, it was a chilly and windy day in early Spring -- in the Summer, our insect count will be much higher!
And here's a great example of how humans impact biodiversity -- we adopted a dog this past year who loves to chase the bunnies in our yard. As a result, we see a lot less bunnies now than we did a few years ago because they found another place to live -- silly dog!
We used the Biodiversity Index provided by the American Museum of Natural History -- it's a simple calculation and most kids will be able to do the math with it.
Extended the Learning
If you want to expand on this science activity, here are a few ideas:
- Calculate your yard's biodiversity now and then again in 6-8 weeks to see how it changes.
- Compare the biodiversity of your backyard with that of your school playground by doing an observation session in each location.
- See how your yard compares to other places around the world by visiting this Biodiversity Mapping project.
- The next time you go on vacation, take the biodiversity worksheet with you and compare the variety of living things in your yard with your vacation spot!
For example, we took a trip to Hawaii a few years ago and had monkeys living in the trees behind our vacation house! You'd never have that in Kansas -- nope, not even the flying monkeys from Oz ;)
And here's another great example of how things change over time in the same ecosystem or yard -- last year, we had falcons nesting in our yard so a totally different species than we'd ever seen before -- 4 of them! It was really cool!
How Can We Protect Biodiversity?
It's important to keep our yards, parks and green spaces as diverse as possible!
Biodiversity helps to protect plants and animals from extinction -- if there are a variety of food sources and resources available, than living organisms are more able to adapt to an area.
So what can we do as individuals?
- Make wildlife feel welcome in your yard! We put out birdfeeders in the winter months to encourage the birds to continue to visit.
- Allow wild animals to stay wild -- no adopting that cute bunny as a pet ;)
- Protect local habitats -- both in your yard and around your city! For example, pick up trash and practice 'leave no trace' guidelines when you visit a park or woodland.
- Don't introduce 'invasive' species to the area -- for example, don't let a pet snake or hamster into the wild! They could carry disease or alter the ecosystem so that native animals won't be able to survive.
Be sure to visit all the awesome science activities on Inspiration Laboratories Storybook Science page too!
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