Scientific Question 1: What is the effect of cacao farms on bird abundance?

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1 Research Background: Is Chocolate For the Birds? Featured scientist: Skye Greenler from Colorado College 9,000 years ago humans invented agriculture as a way to grow enough food for people to eat. Today, agriculture happens all over the globe, and takes up 40% of Earth s land surface! To make space for our food, humans must clear large areas of land, creating a disturbance to the habitat. This disturbance removes the native plants already there, including trees, small flowering plants, and grasses. Many types of animals including mammals, birds, and insects need these native plants for food or shelter and will now find it difficult to live in the area. For example, a woodpecker bird can t live somewhere where there are no trees, because they live and find their food in the trees. However, some disturbances might help some animals because they can use crops for the food and shelter they need to survive. One example is the cacao tree, which grows in the rainforests of South America. Humans use the seeds of this plant to make chocolate, so it is a very important crop! trees need very little light. They grow best under the large trees found in rainforests. To get lots of cacao seeds for chocolate, farmers need to have large rainforest trees above their cacao trees for shade. In many ways, cacao farms resemble a native rainforest. Many native plant species grow there and there are still taller tree species. However, these farms are different in important ways from a native rainforest. For example, there are many more cacao trees than found in native rainforests. Also, there are fewer small flowering plants on the ground because humans that work on cacao farms trample them as they walk around the farm. Skye is a biologist who wanted to know if birds from rainforests could survive when their habitat was replaced with cacao farms. To begin, she counted birds and determined their abundance in each habitat. Skye chose one rainforest and one cacao farm and set up two transects in each. She spent 4 days counting birds along each transect, for a total of 8 days in each habitat. She had to get up really early and count birds between 6:00 and 9:00 in the morning because that s when they are most active! Scientific Question 1: What is the effect of cacao farms on bird abundance? Check for Understanding: After reading the introduction, students should be able to: Define abundance and describe how Skye collected the abundance data in this study Define disturbance and describe how agriculture is an example of this process Understand that abundance for Question 1 represents a count across all bird types in both habitats. The term abundance can also be used to represent the number of each bird type within a habitat. Identify the replication for this study there is one replicate for forest and one for cacao farms because Skye used one location for each. Transects and days are not replicates, but the data from these are combined into one sample for each habitat. 1

2 Teachers Copy, Level 2 The image at the top shows Skye out in the field counting birds along one of her four transects. She spent four days along each transect, for a total of 16 days in both cacao farms and rainforests. The image at the bottom left shows a typical cacao farm with some taller trees remaining to provide shade for the cacao. The image at the bottom right shows an undisturbed rainforest. In the rainforest, all the taller trees and small flowering plants remain. 2

3 Scientific Data 1: Use the data from Table 1 to answer scientific question 1: Abundance - All Birds What data will you use to answer Question 1? Independent variable: Habitat (cacao farm or rainforest) Dependent variable: Total bird count (abundance) Interpret the data: Make a claim that answers Question 1. Support your claim using data from Table 1 as evidence. There were fewer birds in the cacao farm, but the abundances between the two habitats were very similar. The total abundance of birds was 106 in the cacao farm and 116 in the rainforest habitat. This means that the cacao farm replacing rainforest habitat had a very small effect on total bird abundance. Skye s next steps: Skye was shocked to see so many birds in cacao farms! She decided to take a closer look at her data. Skye wanted to know whether the types of birds she saw in the cacao farms were different or the same as the birds she saw in the rainforest. She predicted that cacao farms might have different types of birds living in them than the undisturbed rainforest. She thought the bird types would differ because each habitat has different types of food available for birds to eat and different types of plants for birds to live in. Skye broke her abundance data down to look more closely at four types of birds: 1. Toucans (Eat: large insects and fruit from large trees, Live: holes in large trees) 2. Hummingbirds (Eat: nectar from flowers, Live: tree branches and leaves) 3. Wrens (Eat: small insects, Live: small shrubs on the forest floor) 4. Flycatchers (Eat: Small insects, Live: tree branches and leaves) Scientific Question 2: What is the effect of cacao farms on the abundance of different bird types? What is the hypothesis? Find Skye s hypothesis in the next steps and underline it. A hypothesis is proposed explanation for an observation, which can then be tested with experimentation. 3

4 Scientific Data 2: Use the data from Table 2 to answer scientific question 2: Date Habitat Toucans Hummingbirds Wrens Flycatchers 3/16/ /22/ /25/ /4/ /8/ /12/ /18/ /25/ /14/ /14/ /21/ /26/ /6/ /9/ /20/ /22/ Total Count (abundance) Toucans Hummingbirds Wrens Flycatchers Teacher Note: The data on date is not relevant to answering the scientific question. Students will have to calculate the total count (abundance) for each bird type for each habitat and graph that number. What data will you graph to answer Question 2? Independent variable: Habitat (cacao farm or rainforest) Dependent variable: Total count (abundance) of each bird type 4

5 Draw your graph below: Total Count (Abundance) Toucans Hummingbirds Wrens Flycatchers Bird Type Interpret the data: What trends, changes, or differences do you see in the table or on the graph? There are more toucans and wrens in the rainforest habitat than in the cacao. There are more hummingbirds and flycatchers in the cacao than the rainforest. In a total count across the two habitats, flycatchers are the most abundant bird types and toucans the least abundant. What is the relationship between the dependent and independent variables? What does the relationship between the variables mean? There is not a consistent relationship between the independent and dependent variables. Depending on the bird types, the cacao farm either increased or decreased abundance. Abundance went up for toucans and wrens in cacao, where abundance went down for hummingbirds and flycatchers. This means that the effect of cacao farm and loss of rainforest on birds is not consistent across bird types. 5

6 Make a claim that answers Question 2 What is the effect of cacao farms on the abundance of different bird types? If you look at total abundance across all bird types, it appears that cacao farms do not have a large impact on bird abundance - there were similar numbers of birds within both habitats. However, cacao farms benefited some bird types while harming others. So, an important effect of cacao farms is a shift in the composition of the bird community. Support your claim using data as evidence. Reference specific parts of the table or graph. Though the cacao and rainforest have a similar number of birds, the types of birds that live in each habitat are very different. There are many more toucans and wrens in the rainforest (Toucans: 14, Wrens: 52) than in cacao farms (toucans: 1, wrens: 3). There are more hummingbirds and flycatchers in cacao farms (hummingbirds: 38 flycatchers: 64) than in the rainforest (hummingbirds: 19, flycatchers: 31). Explain your reasoning and how the data supports your claim. Connect the data back to what you learned about diet and living preferences of the different types of birds. Toucans need big trees to make their nest in and eat lots of big fruits. There are not many really big trees in the cacao and not enough fruit trees in the cacao, so it makes sense that there are more toucans in the rainforest habitat. Wrens live on the floor of the rainforest in all of the small plants and shrubs, but the farm does not have these plants underneath the cacao trees because all of the workers trample them and the wrens have nowhere to live. Therefore, it also makes sense that there are more wrens in the rainforest habitat. The cacao farms have many hummingbirds, possibly because they really like to eat the sweet nectar of the flowers that live on the cacao trees and on the shade trees. Finally the flycatchers might like the cacao more because there is more open space for them to fly around and catch bugs in the air unlike in the rainforest. Apply this research: Think about a habitat near you that has been disturbed by humans. What habitat are you thinking of? See Teacher Note 6

7 Think about the animals and plants that live there. Choose one species that lives in that habitat to focus on. What food and shelter does this disturbed habitat provide for the species? What types of food and shelter would be different in an undisturbed habitat? See Teacher Note Do you predict that this species would have a higher abundance in the disturbed habitat or in an undisturbed habitat? How would you test whether the species you chose is affected by disturbance? Describe your methods and the data you would collect. See Teacher Note Teacher Note: Students may respond to this question in many potential ways, and there is no correct answer. To guide your students through this question, you may choose to have a class discussion where students list all the types of habitats near their homes or school. You can then place all of these habitats on a scale of how disturbed they are by human activity. For example, woods behind the school would be relatively undisturbed compared to an agricultural field or the green lawn where students play sports. If you are in a city school, a park would be relatively undisturbed compared to a city street, but more disturbed than a natural area outside the city limits. Once you have discussed the habitat types in your area, students can start to generate a list of plants and animals they observed in these habitats. Are there any species that seem particularly abundant in human disturbed habitats? For example, dandelion plants show up a lot more often in yards than they do in natural grasslands. Squirrels, pigeons, and raccoons are examples of animals that do really well around humans. The species that survive in human disturbed habitats are able to find food and shelter in these areas. Some animals are able to eat food we throw away and live in the structures we build. Some plants do really well in soil disturbed by humans. To test if abundance of a species is actually higher in human disturbed areas, students should choose two habitats (one more disturbed than the other) and measure abundance of their species in each. For birds, this could be a point count method where students stand in one place for a given period of time and record all the birds they see. Similar methods could be used for mammals. For plants, students could use a quadrat and count all the individuals of a particular species that are growing within the quadrat. If you want your students to collect their own data, this is a study that could be performed in almost any habitat! Replication for would be the number of examples of each habitat type they used. For example, if they collect bird abundance data in three forests and three parking lots, their replication is three. Randomization could be done by randomly selecting areas in the habitat to sample using a map. Additional teacher resources related to this Data Nugget: The data found in this Data Nugget has been published. The paper can be found here: Greenler, S.M. and J.J. Ebersole (2015) Bird communities in tropical agroforestry ecosystems: an underappreciated conservation resource. Agroforestry Systems 89: developed by Michigan State University fellows in the NSF BEACON and GK-12 programs Data Nuggets 7

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