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Changes Ahoof: Could Climate Change Affect Arctic Caribou?
http://forces.si.edu/arctic/pdf/ACT%205_CHANGES%20AHOOF.pdf

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

Changes in climate conditions can affect the health and function of ecosystems and the survival of entire species. The distribution patterns of fossils show evidence of gradual as well as abrupt extinctions related to climate change in the past.
About Teaching Principle 3
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Ecosystems on land and in the ocean have been and will continue to be disturbed by climate change. Animals, plants, bacteria, and viruses will migrate to new areas with favorable climate conditions. Infectious diseases and certain species will be able to invade areas that they did not previously inhabit.
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Excellence in Environmental Education Guidelines

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.

Benchmarks for Science Literacy
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Changes in environmental conditions can affect the survival of individual organisms and entire species.
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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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