Stream Ecology Black Hawk College Singing Bird Creek

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1 - Define ecology and ecosystem. Stream Ecology Black Hawk College Singing Bird Creek Objectives - Identify the abiotic and biotic components of an ecosystem. - Discuss the impact of human population growth on ecosystems. - Discuss the importance of biodiversity. - Practice habitat and biologically surveying. - Determine the quantity and diversity of biological collections. Introduction An ecosystem is all of the living (biotic) organisms in a given area and the nonliving (abiotic) components with which they interact. The field of ecology studies ecosystems and the interactions that occur therein. The range of studies undertaken in the field of ecology are vast. For example, scientists may describe the complex feeding structure within an ecosystem or they may examine the impact of a certain species on the other species of the ecosystem. Many times the field of ecology will intersect with environmental studies that look at the impact of human action on ecosystems. As the human population grows, its impact on ecosystems intensifies. Land used for housing and agriculture alters habitats and displaces plant and animal species. As a result biodiversity declines. The effects of the loss of species diversity are wide- ranging. From a human- centered perspective, the loss of diversity means the loss of potential food and medicinal sources. From a biological perspective it means the loss of unique organisms that took millions of years to evolve and cannot be recreated. In addition to biodiversity, the quality and quantity of our fresh water resources is greatly impacted by human activity. Through global warming, demands of the growing human population and increasing agriculture, our fresh water supplies are overtaxed. Many environmental and ecological groups work to evaluate our water supplies for their quality and biodiversity to monitor the impact of humans on these fragile ecosystems. In this laboratory activity students will be introduced to the basic approaches to ecological survey through examination of a stream ecosystem. Habitats will be observed and documented. Biological samples will be collected and analyzed in the lab. Over time, data collected using these techniques like these provide a picture of the quality and stability of an ecosystem and may indicate whether human actions are impacting the area. 1

2 Community Service Connection: The stream sampling outlined in this exercise is based on the stream sampling done by RiverWatch volunteers. The RiverWatch organization is part of the National Great Rivers Research and Education Center. RiverWatch promotes education about and conservation of our Illinois streams and rivers. Volunteers are trained to sample a stream or river in their area annually. The stream data is collected over many years and can be used to evaluate the quality of the stream over time. The stream at Black Hawk College is enrolled in the RiverWatch program, and is sampled annually by our faculty and students. Sampling for the Biological Survey 2

3 Activity: Stream Ecology Part 1. Habitat Survey a. Site Selection: The site will be chosen by your instructor. b. Describe the Habitat: Observe the habitat at the site; record your observations in Table 1. Table 1: Habitat Survey Data Weather (temperature, humidity, etc.) Water Appearance (clear, milky, oily, etc.) Water Odor (none, sewage, sulfur, etc.) Canopy Cover (estimate % canopy) Land use category (farm, industrial, residential, etc.) Bottom substrate (bedrock, sand, gravel, silt, etc.) c. Identify Aquatic Habitats: State whether each of the following aquatic habitats is present at your site: Riffle: shallow water, swiftly moving over rock Leaf Pack: accumulations of leaves with decaying organic matter Snag: submerged trees or portions of trees Undercut bank: bank has been cut out by moving water, overhangs water Sediment: sandy, silty or muddy stream bottom Note: the aquatic habitat list above starts with the habitat where most diversity is expected (riffle) and moves down to the habitat where the least diversity is expected. We will assess whether our results are consistent with those expectations. Sediment Riffle 3

4 Part 2. Biological Survey: a. Biological Collection: Your instructor will indicate a specific location for your collection. Follow demonstrated procedures for net use and specimen collection. Transfer organisms from the net to a collection tray. Preserve all organisms for later examination in specimen jars filled with alcohol. b. Specimen Identification: Obtain an dissecting microscope and an organism identification card. Start by placing your jar contents in a petri dish containing alcohol. 1. Count the number of organisms and record. (for very large collections, you may estimate the total by evenly spreading the organisms, counting those in one quadrant and multiplying by 4). Record your data in Table View your specimens under the scope. List the different types of organisms you see and the quantity of each type. Record your data in Table As time allows, choose different types of organisms and try to make a species identification using the identification card photographs. Record this under Description Table 2. Table 2: Biological Survey Data Group Name: Type of Aquatic Habitat: Species Total number of organisms: Number of different organisms: Number of organisms Description % of total 4

5 4. Collect class data and compare your data with that of other groups. Record the class date in Table 3. Table 3: Class Data Group Name Type of Habitat Total Number of Organisms Number of different organisms 5

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