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Understanding the Mountain Pine Beetle

Melissa Barker, Jim Moulton, Barbara Keith, Cheryl Manning, Learnmoreaboutclimate, University of Colorado, Boulder

This lesson plan has students working in small groups to research the Mountain Pine Beetle in Colorado and other inter-mountain Western states. Students identify the factors that control pine beetle population and research how warmer winters and decreasing spring snowpack allow the population of pine beetles to expand.

Activity takes approximately one week. Computer and Internet access is necessary.

Learn more about Teaching Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness»

ngssSee how this Activity supports the Next Generation Science Standards»
Middle School: 5 Disciplinary Core Ideas, 7 Cross Cutting Concepts, 7 Science and Engineering Practices
High School: 2 Performance Expectations, 4 Disciplinary Core Ideas, 7 Cross Cutting Concepts, 8 Science and Engineering Practices

Climate Literacy
About Teaching Climate Literacy

Climate's role in habitats ranges and adaptation of species to climate changes
About Teaching Principle 3
Other materials addressing 3a
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
Other materials addressing 7e

Excellence in Environmental Education Guidelines

2. Knowledge of Environmental Processes and Systems:2.2 The Living Environment:A) Organisms, populations, and communities
Other materials addressing:
A) Organisms, populations, and communities.
2. Knowledge of Environmental Processes and Systems:2.2 The Living Environment:C) Systems and connections
Other materials addressing:
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

  • Possible misconceptions are listed, but educator needs to make sure these misconceptions are addressed; the lesson design doesn't provide an obvious path to address them. Students learn about the biology of the Mountain Pine Beetle and how warmer conditions allow it to experience explosive population growth patterns.
  • If computer access is not available, the research part can be assigned as homework. Active guidance at the beginning of this research project would make it the most successful.
  • Have students annotate their presentations to indicate the source of their information to ensure that the data is from credible sources.
  • Among the resources are additional lesson plans for the same topic.
  • Extend discussion to incorporate possible human causes.
  • This resource focuses on the Colorado Rocky Mountains, but the same activity could be used in different parts of the country to examine other pine bark beetles, such as the Southern Pine Bark Beetle, using different data resources.

About the Science

  • While the focus of the activity is Colorado, Mountain Pine Beetle is an issue throughout the Rocky Mountain West and into Canada.
  • Data and links to support the students' research should be supplemented by additional sources. The provided data goes through 2008, but more recent data is available online.
  • The report on which temperature and precipitation data graphs are based come from "Climate Change in Colorado" (2008), available at http://wwa.colorado.edu/CO_Climate_Report/index.html.
  • Data sources include US Forest Service and Colorado State Forestry data maps and graphics. Real-time temperature and snowpack data sets are also referenced.
  • Good quality background materials published by government agencies are provided, but few links given to original peer-reviewed source material.
  • Educator's background knowledge will effect the rigor and outcomes of the activity.
  • Possible misconceptions are noted.
  • Comments from expert scientist: Resource illustrates complex interactions of population biology, ecology, evolution, and climate change.There are plenty of opportunities for students to expand and focus on particular areas of interest, and the complexity of the issue lends itself nicely to a presentation/shared discussion learning format. The video is well put together and provides an interesting and good synthesis of certain bark beetle issues.

About the Pedagogy

  • Students will learn how to independently research, compile, and present scientific data.
  • The teaching sequence is presented in a logical fashion. Students work in small groups to conduct research about the recent pine beetle infestation. They focus on general Mountain Pine Beetle ecology, the effect of Mountain Pine Beetle on forest health, the influence of climate on Pine Beetle population, the impact of humans on climate change, and the influence of forest management practices on forest health.
  • Lesson is well-designed with an emphasis on students answering their own questions and creating a presentation to share with their peers.
  • Uses good teaching strategies to assess prior knowledge, emphasizes cooperative group work, and employs concept mapping as an assessment tool.
  • Teachers' notes provide good background knowledge and teacher support.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • Additional links to high-quality background material are provided for students to gain additional background information.
  • Well-designed, easy-to-follow lesson plan.
  • Students need access to computers.

Related URLs These related sites were noted by our reviewers but have not been reviewed by CLEAN


Next Generation Science Standards See how this Activity supports:

Middle School

Disciplinary Core Ideas: 5

MS-ESS2.A2:The planet’s systems interact over scales that range from microscopic to global in size, and they operate over fractions of a second to billions of years. These interactions have shaped Earth’s history and will determine its future.

MS-ESS3.C1:Human activities have significantly altered the biosphere, sometimes damaging or destroying natural habitats and causing the extinction of other species. But changes to Earth’s environments can have different impacts (negative and positive) for different living things.

MS-LS2.A1:Organisms, and populations of organisms, are dependent on their environmental interactions both with other living things and with nonliving factors.

MS-LS2.A4:Similarly, predatory interactions may reduce the number of organisms or eliminate whole populations of organisms. Mutually beneficial interactions, in contrast, may become so interdependent that each organism requires the other for survival. Although the species involved in these competitive, predatory, and mutually beneficial interactions vary across ecosystems, the patterns of interactions of organisms with their environments, both living and nonliving, are shared.

MS-LS2.C1:Ecosystems are dynamic in nature; their characteristics can vary over time. Disruptions to any physical or biological component of an ecosystem can lead to shifts in all its populations.

Cross Cutting Concepts: 7

Systems and System Models, Stability and Change, Patterns, Cause and effect, Scale, Proportion and Quantity

MS-C1.4:Graphs, charts, and images can be used to identify patterns in data.

MS-C2.1:Relationships can be classified as causal or correlational, and correlation does not necessarily imply causation.

MS-C3.5:Phenomena that can be observed at one scale may not be observable at another scale.

MS-C4.1: Systems may interact with other systems; they may have sub-systems and be a part of larger complex systems.

MS-C7.2: Small changes in one part of a system might cause large changes in another part.

MS-C7.3:Stability might be disturbed either by sudden events or gradual changes that accumulate over time.

MS-C7.4:Systems in dynamic equilibrium are stable due to a balance of feedback mechanisms.

Science and Engineering Practices: 7

Analyzing and Interpreting Data, Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions, Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information, Asking Questions and Defining Problems

MS-P1.1:Ask questions that arise from careful observation of phenomena, models, or unexpected results, to clarify and/or seek additional information.

MS-P4.2:Use graphical displays (e.g., maps, charts, graphs, and/or tables) of large data sets to identify temporal and spatial relationships.

MS-P4.3: Distinguish between causal and correlational relationships in data.

MS-P6.1:Construct an explanation that includes qualitative or quantitative relationships between variables that predict(s) and/or describe(s) phenomena.

MS-P6.3:Construct a scientific explanation based on valid and reliable evidence obtained from sources (including the students’ own experiments) and the assumption that theories and laws that describe the natural world operate today as they did in the past and will continue to do so in the future.

MS-P6.5:Apply scientific reasoning to show why the data or evidence is adequate for the explanation or conclusion


High School

Performance Expectations: 2

HS-ESS3-6: Use a computational representation to illustrate the relationships among Earth systems and how those relationships are being modified due to human activity.

HS-LS2-6: Evaluate the claims, evidence, and reasoning that the complex interactions in ecosystems maintain relatively consistent numbers and types of organisms in stable conditions, but changing conditions may result in a new ecosystem.

Disciplinary Core Ideas: 4

HS-ESS2.A1:Earth’s systems, being dynamic and interacting, cause feedback effects that can increase or decrease the original changes.

HS-ESS2.D3:Changes in the atmosphere due to human activity have increased carbon dioxide concentrations and thus affect climate.

HS-ESS3.C1:The sustainability of human societies and the biodiversity that supports them requires responsible management of natural resources.

HS-LS2.C:Ecosystem Dynamics, Functioning, and Resilience

Cross Cutting Concepts: 7

Patterns, Cause and effect, Scale, Proportion and Quantity, Systems and System Models, Stability and Change

HS-C1.5:Empirical evidence is needed to identify patterns.

HS-C2.2:Cause and effect relationships can be suggested and predicted for complex natural and human designed systems by examining what is known about smaller scale mechanisms within the system.

HS-C3.3:Patterns observable at one scale may not be observable or exist at other scales.

HS-C4.2:When investigating or describing a system, the boundaries and initial conditions of the system need to be defined and their inputs and outputs analyzed and described using models.

HS-C7.1:Much of science deals with constructing explanations of how things change and how they remain stable.

HS-C7.2:Change and rates of change can be quantified and modeled over very short or very long periods of time. Some system changes are irreversible.

HS-C7.3:Feedback (negative or positive) can stabilize or destabilize a system.

Science and Engineering Practices: 8

Asking Questions and Defining Problems, Planning and Carrying Out Investigations, Analyzing and Interpreting Data, Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions, Engaging in Argument from Evidence, Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information

HS-P1.1:Ask questions that arise from careful observation of phenomena, or unexpected results, to clarify and/or seek additional information.

HS-P3.5:Make directional hypotheses that specify what happens to a dependent variable when an independent variable is manipulated.

HS-P4.3:Consider limitations of data analysis (e.g., measurement error, sample selection) when analyzing and interpreting data

HS-P6.1:Make a quantitative and/or qualitative claim regarding the relationship between dependent and independent variables.

HS-P6.3:Apply scientific ideas, principles, and/or evidence to provide an explanation of phenomena and solve design problems, taking into account possible unanticipated effects.

HS-P6.4:Apply scientific reasoning, theory, and/or models to link evidence to the claims to assess the extent to which the reasoning and data support the explanation or conclusion.

HS-P7.1:Compare and evaluate competing arguments or design solutions in light of currently accepted explanations, new evidence, limitations (e.g., trade-offs), constraints, and ethical issues


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