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Agricultural Literacy Curriculum Matrix

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Natural and Managed Ecosystems

Grade Level(s)

3 - 5

Estimated Time

2 hours

Purpose

Students will compare the differences between natural and managed ecosystems and describe ways in which farmers can protect agricultural ecosystems.

Materials

Activity 1: What is an Ecosystem?

Activity 2: Comparing Natural and Managed Ecosystems

  • Definition Signs
  • Four Corner Signs
  • Ecosystem Cards

Activity 3: Farm Food Chains

  • 35 plastic cups (18 oz)
  • Food Chain Model Pictures (Print on 2" x 4" labels compatible with Avery®5163/8163)
  • Dory Story by Jerry Pallotta
  • Ocean Food Chain Pictures (Print on 2" x 4" labels compatible with Avery®5163/8163)
  • Once Upon a Jungle by Laura Knowles
  • Jungle Food Chain Pictures (Print on 2" x 4" labels compatible with Avery®5163/8163)
  • Pond Circle by Betsy Franco
  • Pond Food Chain Pictures (Print on 2" x 4" labels compatible with Avery®5163/8163)
  • Pigs & Pork in the Story of Agriculture by Susan Anderson and JoAnne Buggey
  • Farm Food Chain Pictures (Print on 2" x 4" labels compatible with Avery®5163/8163)

Essential Files (maps, charts, pictures, or documents)

Essential Links

Vocabulary

secondary consumer: an animal that eats primary consumers

sustainable agriculture: farming practices and methods that are economically profitable, environmentally sound, and good for communities

biodiversity: diversity among and within plant and animal species in an environment

apex predator: a predator at the top of the food chain that does not have any natural predators

tertiary consumer: an animal that eats primary consumers and secondary consumers

primary consumer: an animal that eats producers

omnivore: an animal that eats food of both plant and animal origin

carnivore: an animal that feeds on animal matter

herbivore: an animal that feeds on plants

food chain: a hierarchical series of organisms each dependent on the next as a source of food

decomposer: an organism that breaks down organic material such as the remains of dead organisms

consumer: an organism that obtains food by feeding on other organisms or organic matter

producer: an organism that serves as a source of food for other organisms in a food chain; an organism that can make its own food

abiotic: relating to nonliving things in an environment

biotic: relating to living things in an environment

nonliving: anything that was never alive

living: organisms that display the key characteristics of life including movement, breathing or respiration, excretion, growth, sensitivity, and reproduction

ecosystem: a biological community of living organisms interacting with the nonliving parts of their environment

Did you know? (Ag Facts)

  • NASA scientists established a method to use satellites to detect fluorescence, the light invisible to the naked eye that is emitted by plants during photosynthesis. This technology allows farmers and ecologists to map photosynthesis, an indication of plant health.5
  • Almond growers use 33% less water today to grow half a kilogram (1 pound) of almonds than they did twenty years ago. Micro-irrigation allows water to be applied to tree root areas where it's needed.6
  • GPS technology integrated with modern equipment allows farmers to map their fields with high precision, resulting in an efficient use of resources.6

Background Agricultural Connections

An ecosystem is a biological community of living organisms interacting with the nonliving parts of their environment. There are two main components of an ecosystem. The biotic factor is made up of living organisms like plants, animals, fungi, and bacteria. The abiotic factor is made up of nonliving components like soil, weather, water, and rocks.

Ecosystems need energy. A food chain, a series of organisms that are each dependent on the next as a food source, shows how energy moves through an ecosystem. Typically, this energy originates from sunlight. Producers, organisms like green plants that can make their own food, use energy from sunlight and convert it into usable energy through the process of photosynthesis. Animals (consumers) consume the energy from plants and then are eaten by other animals or decompose back into the soil. Primary consumers are animals that eat producers. They are usually herbivores that feed on plants. Secondary consumers are animals that eat primary consumers. They can be either carnivores that feed on animals or omnivores that feed on both plants and animals. Tertiary consumers are animals that eat primary consumers and secondary consumers. They are typically carnivorous predators but can also be omnivores. Apex predators are the predators at the top of the food chain that have no natural predators. As part of an ecosystem, animals and plants depend on each other for survival. Beginning with plants and ending with animals, organisms eat other organisms to obtain energy.

An agricultural ecosystem is a managed ecosystem with the purpose of producing crops and/or animal products. Agricultural ecosystems comprise about 37% of the total land area of the Earth,1 with approximately 11% being arable land used to cultivate crops and the rest used to raise livestock.2 

Natural ecosystems consist of many species of plants and animals while managed ecosystems have fewer species that are selected by humans and are limited in diversity. Natural ecosystems are self-sustaining as opposed to managed ecosystems that require the assistance of humans. Humans control many of the interactions in an agricultural ecosystem, including soil condition, soil erosion, water quality, and animal habitats. While sunlight is the energy source for both natural and managed ecosystems, managed systems may supply additional fertilizer and nutrients to the soil. Food chains in a natural system are more complex than in a managed system.

There are many techniques farmers can use to protect agricultural ecosystems, including managing water wisely; building and maintaining healthy soil; minimizing air, water, and climate pollution; and promoting biodiversity. Sustainable agriculture refers to farming practices and methods that are economically profitable, environmentally sound, and good for communities.3 Sustainable farming practices include rotating crops, planting cover crops, reducing or eliminating tillage, applying integrated pest management (IPM), integrating livestock and crops, adopting agroforestry practices, and managing whole systems and landscapes.4

Interest Approach – Engagement

  1. Ask the students to make a list of living and nonliving things that can be found on a farm. Guide the students to include the following on their list:
    • sunlight
    • air
    • water
    • soil
    • plants
    • animals
    • insects
    • decomposers
    • farmers
  2. Lead a discussion about how the living and nonliving things on a farm are interconnected. Include the following points in the discussion:
    • Plants need light, water, nutrients, and air to survive.
    • Animals and insects need water, food, air, and shelter to survive.
    • Plants produce their own food, and animals depend on plants, or animals that eat plants, for food.
    • Insects, like bees and butterflies, are necessary for the reproduction of most of the world's flowering plants.
    • Animal waste is an important nutrient source for plants.
    • Grazing animals are able to digest plants that humans cannot.
    • Decomposers break down wastes that collect on the earth into materials that are used by plants.
    • The farmer controls and monitors food production on the farm.
  3. Explain to the students that, in this lesson, they will be investigating natural and managed ecosystems, communities of living things interacting with the nonliving parts of their environment.

Procedures

Activity 1: What is an Ecosystem?

  1. Have the students view the Understanding Ecosystems video.
  2. Lead a discussion about ecosystems. Include the following points in the discussion:
    • Ecosystems are communities of living things interacting with the nonliving things in their environment.
    • The nonliving parts of an ecosystem include sunlight, temperature, air, weather, water, rocks, and soil.
    • The living parts of an ecosystem are the plants and animals living in it. There are three main types of living things in an ecosystem—producers, consumers, and decomposers.
    • Producers make their own food typically through the process of photosynthesis.
    • All animals are consumers that rely on producers and/or other consumers for food.
    • Decomposers consume dead plants and animals and break them down into nutrients that are released into the soil. The nutrients are used by plants to help them grow.
    • We can protect ecosystems by cleaning up trash, planting trees, conserving water and electricity, and creating habitats for wild animals.
  3. Project the Ecological Regions of North America Map onto a large screen. As a class, identify the major ecosystem(s) in your region. Guide the students to research the ecosystem(s) and identify the following features:
    • Climate 
    • Plants
    • Animals
    • Natural Resources
  4. As a class, use the information from the State Agricultural Facts for your state to identify the crops and livestock that are grown and raised in your region.

Activity 2: Comparing Natural and Managed Ecosystems

  1. Prior to this activity, place one of the Four Corners Signs into each corner of the classroom.
  2. Show the students the Definition Signs. Ask them to match the words with the definitions. Match the words and definitions together on the board:
    • natural: existing in or caused by nature; not made or caused by humankind
    • manage: to take charge or care of
  3. Provide each student with an Ecosystem CardAsk the students to determine the corner in which their card fits—Natural Ecosystems, Managed Ecosystems, Both Natural and Managed Ecosystems, or Neither Natural nor Managed Ecosystems—and move to stand in that corner.
  4. Have each student share with the class why their card fits with the corner they chose.
  5. Discuss the differences between natural and managed ecosystems. Include the following points in the discussion:
    • Natural ecosystems consist of many species of plants and animals. Species in managed ecosystems are selected by humans and limited in diversity.
    • Natural ecosystems are self-sustaining. Managed ecosystems require the assistance of humans.
    • Humans control many of the interactions in a managed ecosystem, including soil condition, soil erosion, water quality, and animal habitats.
    • While sunlight is the energy source for both natural and managed ecosystems, managed systems may supply additional fertilizer and nutrients to the soil.
    • Food chains in a natural system are more complex than in a managed system.

Activity 3: Farm Food Chains

  1. Prior to this activity, prepare a food chain model by attaching the Food Chain Model Pictures to the plastic cups.
  2. Use the food chain model to explain the following points:
    • A food chain is a series of organisms that are each dependent on the next as a food source. A food chain shows how energy moves through an ecosystem.
    • Show the students the sunlight cup. In an ecosystem, organisms are dependent on each other for energy in the form of food. Typically, this energy originates from sunlight.
    • Show the students the producer cup. Producers are organisms that can make their own food. Green plants are producers that use the energy from sunlight to make their own food through the process of photosynthesis. (Use the Desktop Greenhouses lesson to further explore the topic of photosynthesis.) Place the producer cup onto the sunlight cup.
    • Show the students the primary consumer cup. Primary consumers are animals that eat producers. They are usually herbivores that feed on plants. Place the primary consumer cup onto the producer cup.
    • Show the students the secondary consumer cup. Secondary consumers are organisms that eat primary consumers. They can be either carnivores that feed on animals or omnivores that feed on both plants and animals. Place the secondary consumer cup onto the primary consumer cup.
    • Show the students the tertiary consumer cup. Tertiary consumers are animals that eat primary consumers and secondary consumers. They are typically carnivorous predators but can also be omnivores. Place the tertiary consumer cup onto the secondary consumer cup.
    • Show the students the apex predator cup. Apex predators are the predators at the top of the food chain. They have no natural predators. Place the apex predator cup onto the tertiary consumer cup.
  3. Organize the students into four groups—Ocean, Jungle, Grassland, and Farm.
  4. Provide each group with plastic cups and their corresponding book and Food Chain Pictures.
    • Ocean: Dory Story by Jerry Pallotta
    • Jungle: Once Upon a Jungle by Laura Knowles
    • Pond: Pond Circle by Betsy Franco
    • Farm: Pigs & Pork in the Story of Agriculture by Susan Anderson and JoAnne Buggey
  5. Have each group read their book and identify the producer, consumers, and apex predators in their food chain.
  6. Instruct the students to attach the Food Chain Pictures for their ecosystem to the plastic cups and create a model of the food chain.
  7. Provide time for each group to present their food chain model to the class.
  8. Ask the students to compare the stacked cups of each food chain. Which stack is shortest? (The farm food chain.) Explain to the students that the food chains in natural ecosystems are longer and more complex than in managed ecosystems. While agricultural ecosystems are less diverse than natural ecosystems, sustainable agricultural practices allow farmers to efficiently produce reliable sources of food for a growing population while protecting the environment. Discuss ways in which farmers can protect agricultural ecosystems. Include the following points in the discussion:
    • There are many techniques farmers can use to protect agricultural ecosystems, including managing water wisely; building and maintaining healthy soil; minimizing air, water, and climate pollution; and promoting biodiversity (diversity among and within plant and animal species in an environment).
    • Sustainable agriculture refers to farming practices and methods that are economically profitable, environmentally sound, and good for communities.
    • Sustainable farming practices include rotating crops, planting cover crops, reducing or eliminating tillage, applying integrated pest management (IPM), integrating livestock and crops, adopting agroforestry practices, and managing whole systems and landscapes.

Concept Elaboration and Evaluation

After conducting these activities, review and summarize the following key concepts:

  • An ecosystem is a biological community of living organisms interacting with the nonliving parts of their environment.
  • A food chain, a series of organisms that are dependent on the next as a food source, shows how energy moves through an ecosystem. Typically, this energy originates from sunlight.
  • Natural ecosystems consist of many species of plants and animals, while species in managed ecosystems are selected by humans.
  • There are many techniques farmers can use to protect agricultural ecosystems, including managing water wisely; building and maintaining healthy soil; minimizing air, water, and climate pollution; and promoting biodiversity.

Important
We welcome your feedback! Please take a minute to tell us how to make this lesson better or to give us a few gold stars!

 

Enriching Activities

Suggested Companion Resources

Agricultural Literacy Outcomes

Plants and Animals for Food, Fiber & Energy

  • Understand the concept of land stewardship and identify ways farmers care for land, plants, and animals (T2.3-5.e)

Agriculture and the Environment

  • Describe similarities and differences between managed and natural systems (e.g., wild forest and tree plantation; natural lake/ocean and fish farm) (T1.3-5.a)
  • Identify land and water conservation methods used in farming systems (wind barriers, conservation tillage, laser leveling, GPS planting, etc.) (T1.3-5.c)
  • Identify the major ecosystems and agro-ecosystems in their community or region (e.g., hardwood forests, conifers, grasslands, deserts) with agro-ecosystems (e.g., grazing areas and crop growing regions) (T1.3-5.d)

Common Core Connections

Reading: Anchor Standards

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.1
    CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.1
    Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.

Speaking and Listening: Anchor Standards

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.1
    CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.1
    Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.4
    CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.4
    Present information, findings, and supporting evidence such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.5
    CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.5
    Make strategic use of digital media and visual displays of data to express information and enhance understanding of presentations.

National Standards

Within GEOGRAPHY

5-8 Geography Standard 8: The characteristics and spatial distribution of ecosystems and biomes of Earth's surface.

  • Objective 1
    Objective 1
    Components of ecosystem are interdependent.
  • Objective 2
    Objective 2
    Physical processes determine the characteristics of ecosystems.

K-4 Geography Standard 8: The characteristics and spatial distribution of ecosystems and biomes on Earth's surface.

  • Objective 1
    Objective 1
    The components of ecosystems.
  • Objective 2
    Objective 2
    The characteristics of ecosystems.

Within SCIENCE

5-ESS3: Earth and Human Activity

  • 5-ESS3-1
    5-ESS3-1
    Obtain and combine information about ways individual communities use science ideas to protect the Earth's resources and environment.

5-LS2: Ecosystems: Interactions, Energy, and Dynamics

  • 5-LS2-1
    5-LS2-1
    Develop a model to describe the movement of matter among plants, animals, decomposers, and the environment.

 

Consider submitting a lesson or companion resource to the National Agricultural Literacy Curriculum Matrix.
National Agricultural Literacy Curriculum Matrix (2013) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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