What do animals eat? What animals are present in a habitat? How many animals are present? How was the habitat different years ago? How old is this animal? These are all questions that scientists want to answer. We know the answers to questions like these from data collected by scientists in a variety of ways. Science is evidence based, and conclusions are arrived at after multiple replicable experiments. Presented here are six ecological scenarios that demonstrate how scientists arrive at answers to population ecology questions. These lessons can be implemented as single activities that supplement a high school ecology or environmental science curricular unit or as a multiday rotation of stations in which students practice field sampling techniques used in population and community ecology, designed to answer ecological questions. Student scientists learn how to use indirect sampling methods to estimate abundance, density, age, and population size using mark–recapture, transects, and quadrats to model authentic field methods. They calculate species richness and biodiversity with a simplified Simpson's diversity index and describe species age structure and distribution using tree rings, sheep horns, and camera trap images. Students also learn to display population data appropriately, graphing survivorship and richness vs. area and studying trophic pyramids.
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Vol. 83 • No. 3