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Activity 1

Investigating Behavior and Interdependence

Objective & Overview: Combining "fieldwork" and research, students will gain a better understanding of animal behavior and interdependence, through their focus on the interaction between two chosen species. Teacher Background Information: In so many ways, species depend upon one another for survival. In some cases, these relationships are mutually beneficial. In others, the benefits are seemingly one-sided. Here are a few examples:

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Giant pandas depend upon healthy bamboo stands for survival. Many plants depend upon animals (butterflies, bees, hummingbirds, bats, etc.)to feed upon their flowers' nectar or consume their berries, in the process carrying off pollen or seeds that help establish the next generations of the plants.


Oak trees benefit when nut-eating animals such as squirrels and jays carry off acorns, bury them, and forget to dig them up and eat them, in effect planting new trees.

As you can see, these relationships are not limited to closely related animals or plants. Below you will find background on how scientists place organisms in groupings that make the most sense, based on varied criteria that link closely related species through similar

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features, the fossil record, genetic analysis, and other factors. This scientific classification--humans' way of making sense of the natural world--is changeable. New evidence often moves scientists to further "tweak" where a plant or animal belongs in this human-modeled scheme of things. Understanding scientific classification is crucial for students studying nature. You can introduce this concept by starting with the giant panda. Afterward, your students, using reference materials, will classify the species they choose to study for this activity. What is the giant panda's scientific classification? Is it a bear? The scientific classification of giant pandas has, over the years, proven to be controversial among biologists. About ten years ago, National Zoo scientists and their colleagues determined that giant pandas' closest relatives are bears, but that they share many physical traits with raccoons. They are currently placed in the bear family Ursidae. Taxonomy is the scientific classification of organisms, based on characteristics that similar organisms hold in common. Taxonomically speaking, bears are carnivores­members of the order Carnivora, which includes the bear, dog, raccoon, seal, sea lion, weasel, hyena, civet, mongoose, raccoon, and cat families. The order Carnivora is but one level of classification sandwiched between others that divide organisms into more and more closely defined groups. The giant panda's scientific classification goes like this:

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Common Name: Giant Panda Scientific Name (genus and species): Ailuropoda melanoleuca Domain: Eucarya (includes animals, fungi, protists, and plants) Kingdom: Animalia (animals) Phylum: Chordata (vertebrates­animals with backbones) Class: Mammalia (mammals) Order: Carnivora (bears, dogs, cats, etc.) Family: Ursidae (bears) Genus: Ailuropoda Species: A. melanoleuca The classification illustrated above goes from the broadest category (domain) down to the most specific (species). The giant panda is in its own genus as well as being an individual species, illustrating that although it is classified as a bear, it does not seem to be very closely related to any other bear species. In contrast, the American black bear (Ursus americanus), Asiatic black bear (Ursus thibetanus), polar bear (Ursus maritimus), and brown bear (Ursus arctos) share the same genus. Please note that the bold was put in for emphasis. Normally, scientific names (genus and species) are printed in italics, with the genus name beginning with a capitalized letter and the species name beginning with a lower case letter. Unlike the order Carnivora mentioned above, there is a similar nontaxonomic term that we use when speaking of what various creatures eat­carnivore. The term carnivore describes any organism that eats animals. For instance, eagles are carnivores--meat-eaters--but clearly

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not members of the order Carnivora. The polar bear is the most carnivorous bear, primarily hunting seals. Most other bear species are omnivores, eating both animal and plant matter. Giant pandas, however, are primarily herbivores, eating almost exclusively the grasses called bamboo. Considering their diet and taxonomy, you could call giant pandas herbivorous carnivores. Species The word "species" refers to a population or populations of organisms whose members can produce fertile offspring after mating. Understanding the species concept is key when learning many principles of biology, ecology, and genetics. Species designations sometimes change when scientists discover, for example, that one species frequently hybridizes, or interbreeds, with another. In this case, scientists sometimes "lump" the two species into one. Sometimes, scientists "split" one species into multiple species after determining that different populations rarely hybridize or that they have significantly different genetic make-ups. It's all just humanity's way of making sense of, and classifying, life on Earth.

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One copy per student of Investigating Behavior and Interdependence Focus Sheet. · Biology references (field guides, magazines and journals, library, Internet). Directions: 1. Start by discussing the dependence of animals on plants and vice versa in various habitats. Many examples, such as those listed above, apply. The giant panda and its bamboo diet provide a good illustration for China's temperate forests. But many examples lie in our own backyards. Encourage your students to choose one of these habitats to seek out two species that either depend upon each other for survival, or that have a close association that benefits at least one of the two. Local habitats might include:

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suburban gardens or urban parks forests fields wetlands beach/coastal brush.

2. Allow your students a week to visit the habitat of their choice. They should immerse themselves in this "fieldwork," seeking out three examples of two organisms (animals and plants or animals and animals) that appear to be in frequent association and that likely have an important relationship. Explain that they will need to take

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copious notes and do field sketches when possible. They should watch out for any telltale behaviors that draw their attention to the relationship between two species. For example:

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a bird eating a berry in a tree a butterfly on a flower a squirrel burying an acorn a heron eating an eel.

The field notes will be turned in with the rest of the project. Students will need to be able to identify as specifically as possible the animals they choose for their three relationship pairs. Their notes will help them when they return home and try to identify the organisms. 3. Upon beginning the research phase of this activity, your students should try to identify the animals and plants they observed, referring to their notes. Using field guides (being careful to check out the geographic ranges of their species to make sure they occur in the area) and other references, they should classify each to the species level if possible (for the novice, this is not always possible with insects and plants). For example, they may see a hummingbird feeding at a long red flower that is part of a vine growing up a telephone pole. Library research will yield these results: the only common hummingbird in the eastern United States is the ruby-throated hummingbird

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(Archilochus colubris) and the distinctive trumpet-like flower was most likely trumpet vine (Campsis radicans). You can aid your students by covering the classification hierarchy outlined above, from domain to species. You may want to copy and hand out the giant panda example. 4. The next step is to choose one of the three species pairs for further research. Tell your students that their choices should rest upon which pair they are both interested in and from which they are likely to get substantive research materials. They should do some poking around, researching a bit on all three pairs before they choose one. Students should note the habitat, three species pairs, and their chosen species pair on the Investigating Behavior and Interdependence Focus Sheet. They should keep their field notes to turn in later with the sheet and report on their chosen pair. 5. Students should then report on their chosen pair, highlighting their relationship and similar habitat requirements. For example, do both species have similar geographic ranges? Students should highlight any interesting relationships or parallels between these very different organisms that share the same habitat. They should use at least four references for this report, citing their sources at the end using a citation format of your choice. 6. At the project's end, students should turn in their field notes, Focus Sheet, and report. Explain that the way they investigated this activity, first collecting field information, narrowing their

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investigation, then hitting the books, is not too different from the way biologists explore many mysterious aspects of behavior and interdependence. There remain many unanswered questions about the natural world and how it "ticks."

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Investigating Behavior and Interdependence Focus Sheet

Name: Date: Habitat: Location:

Three species pairs observed: 1. ____________________ and __________________

Domain: Kingdom: Phylum: Class: Order: Family: Genus: Species: Domain: Kingdom: Phylum: Class: Order: Family: Genus: Species:

2. ____________________ and __________________

Domain: Kingdom: Phylum: Class: Order: Family: Genus: Species: Domain: Kingdom: Phylum: Class: Order: Family: Genus: Species:

3. ____________________ and __________________

Domain: Kingdom: Phylum: Class: Order: Family: Genus: Species: Domain: Kingdom: Phylum: Class: Order: Family: Genus: Species:

After doing some research, circle the species pair that you choose for your report. Please turn in this Focus Sheet with your field notes and report.

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