Quantifying Biodiversity

Sara Harris, Leigh Gurney, David Cassis, and Brett Gilley
University of British Columbia
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This activity is part of a lab about plankton, in an undergraduate introductory geoscience class for both majors and non-majors.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered:

No prior instruction is needed.

How the activity is situated in the course:

This is part of a sequence of activities about both phytoplankton and zooplankton, including diversity, food webs, and trophic levels.

National or State Education Standards addressed by this activity?:


Content/concepts goals for this activity:

By the end of this activity, students will be able to:
1. Explain the key factors to consider when quantifying biodiversity
2. Compare real samples using both a self-generated biodiversity index and a standard biodiversity index.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity:

Students create, test, and modify their own mathematical representation of a biodiversity index.

Other skills goals for this activity:

Small group work.

Description of the activity/assignment

In small groups, students "invent math" to quantify the diversity of fake samples composed of various office supplies. They apply their biodiversity index to a new fake sample that was not considered in the creation of their index. This activity is preparation for learning about, and using, a biodiversity index developed and used by experts. In the second activity, students make observations of two contrasting phytoplankton samples, quantify the diversity of the samples, and compare them.

Determining whether students have met the goals

Give students a different, new set of samples and ask them to rank them from high to low diversity. See Instructor Copy of this activity for a validated multiple-choice question.

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