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Changes Ahoof: Could Climate Change Affect Arctic Caribou?

Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

Students run a simplified computer model to explore how climate conditions can affect caribou, the most abundant grazing animal in the Arctic.

Activity takes one 45-minute class period. Computer access is necessary.

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Climate Literacy
About Teaching Climate Literacy

Climate impacts ecosystems and past species extinctions
About Teaching Principle 3
Other materials addressing 3c
Ecosystems on land and in the ocean have been and will continue to be disturbed by climate change
About Teaching Principle 7
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2. Knowledge of Environmental Processes and Systems:2.2 The Living Environment:A) Organisms, populations, and communities
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A) Organisms, populations, and communities.
2. Knowledge of Environmental Processes and Systems:2.2 The Living Environment:C) Systems and connections
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C) Systems and connections.

Notes From Our Reviewers The CLEAN collection is hand-picked and rigorously reviewed for scientific accuracy and classroom effectiveness. Read what our review team had to say about this resource below or learn more about how CLEAN reviews teaching materials
Teaching Tips | Science | Pedagogy | Technical Details

Teaching Tips

  • Educators should point out the relationship between the discussed variables and caribou population: When insect activity increases (i.e. mosquitoes), a loss of blood results in a decrease in caribou population. When snow levels increase, energy consumption increases and inability to escape predators results in a decrease in caribou population.
  • Educators should explain the relationship between increasing snowfall and arctic warming, which is counter-intuitive and not explained.
  • Students need to understand percent increase and decrease in order to complete this activity; an example calculation is provided.
  • Educators could add other resources that explain the effect of insects and snowfall on caribou population and discuss with students. See, for example: http://www.gi.alaska.edu/ScienceForum/ASF13/1344.html.

About the Science

  • Passed initial science review - expert science review pending.
  • Students explore the causal relationships between insect activity, which is affected by summer temperatures, and winter snow depth on caribou population.
  • Data output is easily accessible to most middle school students.
  • Comments from expert scientist: This is a great and exciting activity, although highly simplified it will serve the students and teachers with much needed models. It also introduces students to three major areas of concern- Population biology, phenology and climate change. Data sources or studies referenced in this activity have not been provided.

About the Pedagogy

  • Suggested assessment is to have students create a board game about seasonal migration with the conditions the caribou might encounter and the positive or negative effects.
  • Student activity sheet provided is well-constructed and easy to use.
  • Educator references show a sample data output as well as the results of all nine variable combinations.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • Computer model is easy to use.

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