Vaske & Korbin, 2001). Considering these challenges and the
importance of understanding ecosystems, I propose an inquiry-based
activity aimed at general and Advanced Placement (AP) high school
biology classes that engages students directly with local ecosystems
through authentic data collection and analysis of plant biodiversity.
In addition to teaching ecological concepts, the aim of this lesson
is to engage students with outdoor experiences in order to foster a
sense of place and to increase pro-environmental behaviors. This
activity follows AP Biology standards and Next Generation Science
Standards, which identify that students need to do the following:
understand how human disturbance of a habitat affects its biodiversity and stability, use mathematical representations to investigate factors that affect biodiversity, and design solutions for minimizing
human impacts on the environment (College Board, 2016; NGSS
Lead States, 2013).
This activity incorporates technology with Google Maps as a
creative way to illustrate the spatial relationship of plant diversity
in the local area. Additionally, students are encouraged to explore
nature, not only on school grounds, but also in their backyards
and local parks. Students evaluate plant biodiversity in local habitats, determine which habitats have low biodiversity, and outline
what actions can be taken to remediate these areas. Secondly, they
identify which habitats have the highest plant biodiversity and discuss possible explanations for these phenomena. Plants are used
for this study because they offer accurate representations of the biodiversity of a given ecosystem (Benavent-Gonzalez et al., 2014;
Heinze et al., 2015). Furthermore, plant biodiversity can be easily
defined by plant abundance and frequency of distribution (Heinze
et al., 2015), and plant communities have been used previously to
help prioritize conservation efforts (Benavent-Gonzalez et al., 2014).
Activity for Exploring Local Plant
• To measure and analyze plant biodiversity in different local ecosystems using mapping technology (Google Maps Service),
Microsoft Excel, and field methods.
• To evaluate how human disturbance of habitat affects biodiversity and ecosystem stability.
• To promote environmentally responsible behaviors in students
through direct engagement with nature.
Review with your students how to safely handle plants. I would recommend having your students wear field gloves, long pants, and
boots to avoid contact with plants that could cause skin irritation.
This activity is intended to be part of a larger unit on ecology. Students
Figure 1. (A) Sample meter stick method illustration for forest
should have a prior understanding of populations, communities, and
ecosystems, biotic and abiotic factors, transfer of matter and energy
through trophic levels, and the definitions and importance of biodi-
versity. This activity requires access to a variety of outdoor habitats.
In the following example, the habitats I used were a mowed grassy
area, non-mowed grassy area, forest edge, forest (a small fragment),
and a cultivated field, all of which were accessible on or near our
school grounds. In more urban areas, consider using mowed grassy
areas, grassy regions within parking lots, forest edges, vacant lots
undergoing ecological succession, non-mowed or longer grassy
regions, and any natural areas you have available.
The method I propose for measuring plant biodiversity is similar
to a gentry sampling method that biologists utilize to estimate species
richness of vegetation (Long-Term Ecological Research Network,
2013). Because only a meter stick is required, I refer to it as the “meter
stick random sampling method.” For the meter stick random sam-
pling method, a meter stick is randomly tossed into the habitat under
study, and the number of different herbaceous plants and trees within
a hand’s width of the meter stick are recorded (Figure 1). If the meter
stick is under the canopy or in contact with a root of a tree, then the
tree is also counted. As shown in Figure 1, there are four different
types of herbaceous plants and two types of trees (the meter stick
is under the canopy of two different trees) in the sample study area.
Different plant types that could be assessed include moss, small
edge habitat. The 4 small, herbaceous plants are in the study
area are identified as plant 1, plant 2, plant 3, and plant 4.
(B) Students count the number of each plant type to fill out their
data tables. Note that two trees were also included in the data
because the canopy of the trees was over the area of study.