Estuarine Habitats - Between Fresh and Salt Water

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1 Teacher s Guide Lesson 5 Estuarine Habitats - Between Fresh and Salt Water Lesson Description Estuarine habitats represent the area where the oceanic salt water meets the freshwater flowing downstream in the Hudson River. These areas represent a mixing of not only the water, but also a habitat that can support unique plants and animals. The tides impact this area greatly and the fluctuation of the water level offers many challenges for the flora and fauna that call this area home. After having completed the activity on tides, this lesson asks the students to investigate an estuarine habitat and describe the differences they find there. It would be helpful for the students to have completed the lesson on tides before beginning this so that they are aware of the amount of fluctuation in the water level in their area. Science Concepts Introduced Estuary, habitat, limiting factor, food chain/web. Process Skills Emphasized Cooperative/team skills, data collection. Technology Used Computer with Internet capability recommended. Learning Outcomes Students will be able to: Identify different plants characteristic of an estuary; Identify different animals characteristic of an estuary; Explain the effect of the change in water level on the habitat and its populations; Identify the various estuary zones that are shown on the diagram; and Lesson 5 / 85 SUNY-ESF

2 Explain what the estuaries would look like upstream or downstream from their location, based on how the salinity would change. Time Requirement One to two forty-minute class periods above and beyond the tide analysis activity. More time will be needed if the students have the opportunity to actually visit the estuary. This activity could be extended throughout the year, as the teacher wishes, noting any changes that occur in plant and/or animal life. Instructional Strategies Students will investigate the characteristics of an estuary habitat. If students cannot visit an estuary, they can use the diagram to answer questions given in the student section. Careful attention should be paid to the extent of water level change due to the tides and a connection should be made to the plants and/or animals that can be found at each level. Students will also become familiar with the concept of limiting factors through this activity, as they will be asked to define limiting factors for organisms and plants found in estuarine habitats. One very effective way to investigate estuary organisms is to have the students draw or construct a food chain and/or food web of the types of plants and animals found there. Students should be instructed or reminded of the role of plankton in an estuarine habitat. If students are going outside to conduct research, they might be given testing equipment to test the salinity and soil characteristics. If testing can be done for different types of plankton, this will also add another level of trophic energy for the students to investigate. Assessment Students could be: Given a diagram of another estuary habitat and asked to diagram what they might find at each level. Asked to give characteristics of the soil, water level, or salinity found at each level. Given a food chain or web to fill in with the appropriate organisms. SUNY-ESF Lesson 5 / 86

3 Extensions / Options Students could be taken to a number of different sites and compare the characteristics of those sites, especially with respect to the effect of water/tide level. Students could also conduct additional research on estuaries, using the Internet sites listed below. Key Terms Estuary, habitat, limiting factor. Pre-Requisite Knowledge Students may or may not have completed the lesson on tides. Equipment Needed Computer with Internet optional. References See Website information below. Handouts Characteristics of Estuarine Habitats handout for students, student question sheet. Websites: EPA Office of Water National Estuary Program National Estuarine Research Reserve System Estuary-Net Program National Estuarine Research Reserve System Hudson River Special Estuaries In the Hudson River Basin Estuary Live! A live camera of an estuary in North Carolina. The NYS Hudson River Homepage The Hudson River Estuary The Basics Cornell University Department of Natural Resources Kids Activities Special Habitats itats.html Lesson 5 / 87 SUNY-ESF

4 Student Guide Lesson 5 Estuarine Habitats-Between Fresh and Salt Water Introduction Estuaries are unique habitats formed when freshwater meets the water flowing in from the ocean. To complicate matters, the water composition and level changes cyclically, due to the rise and fall caused by the daily tides. What things can survive under these conditions? You are about to find out! Learning Outcomes When you finish this lesson, you will be able to: Identify different plants characteristic of an estuary; Identify different animals characteristic of an estuary; Explain the effect of the change in water level on the habitat and its populations; Identify the various estuary zones that are shown on the diagram; Explain what the estuaries would look like upstream or downstream from their location, based on how the salinity would change; and Show the feeding relationships and how energy is passed between different organisms in an estuary using either a food chain or a food web. Skills Required Cooperative/team skills, data collection, research skills. New Terms Estuary, habitat, limiting factor. Quest Your mission is to identify the kinds of plants and animals that call this place home what could live here? The water level is constantly changing, and there is a combination of salt and freshwater in the area--- who could survive? What are the limiting factors in an estuary? Your task is to investigate this area to determine the brave organisms that call this place home! Materials Student worksheets Computers with Internet access SUNY-ESF Lesson 5 / 88

5 Procedure You will answer the questions on the worksheet by doing one or more of the following: Investigate using books or materials provided by you teacher. Investigate using information from the Internet (see the websites given below. Go outside to investigate an estuary nearby. Extensions / Options This lesson may be extended be taking you to a number of different sites and comparing the characteristics of those sites, especially with respect to the effect of water/tide level. You may also be asked to do additional research on estuaries, using the Internet sites listed below. Assessment You may be given a diagram of another estuary habitat and asked to diagram what you might find at each level. You might also be asked to give characteristics of the soil, water level, salinity, etc., found at each level. Additionally, you might be asked to complete a food chain or food web using organisms that you found out about in this investigation. Handouts Handout on characteristics of estuarine habitats, question sheet. Websites: EPA Office of Water National Estuary Program National Estuarine Research Reserve System Estuary-Net Program National Estuarine Research Reserve System Hudson River Special Estuaries In the Hudson River Basin Estuary Live! A live camera of an estuary in North Carolina. The NYS Hudson River Homepage The Hudson River Estuary The Basics Cornell University Department of Natural Resources Kids Activities Special Habitats Lesson 5 / 89 SUNY-ESF

6 Student Guide Lesson 5 Estuarine Habitats-Between Fresh and Salt Water (Lee, Cara. 1996) Although the ocean tidal flow is the energy behind the tides in the Hudson River, not all of the tidal portion of the river is saltwater. On average the salt water surges as far up as Newburgh, and freshwater tides continue all the way to the dam in Troy. The inland tide creates a variety of habitats along the Hudson River. Different habitats can be identified based on specific characteristics including water levels, water salinity, and soil type. These physical characteristics allow different flora and fauna to live and utilize the habitat. Subtidal Zone below low-tide level; submerged Deepwater communities are found in the sub-tidal zone. The sub-tidal zone is the area found below low-tide level or the area that is continuously covered in water, usually by more than two meters deep. Light does not penetrate very deep into the sub-tidal zone of the Hudson River. This zone does not support rooted vegetation, however, phytoplankton grows in the upper layers of the water column. Animals including benthic or bottom dwelling invertebrates, fish, and fish-eating predators live or depend on this zone. Intertidal Zone between average low- and high-tide levels; The inter-tidal zone is split up into a variety of communities each with their own distinct physical characteristics. One distinction that divides these habitats is the mean tide level. There is an upper inter-tidal zone and a lower inter-tidal zone. The upper inter-tidal zone is the area between the mean tide level and the mean high tide level. The lower intertidal zone is the area between the mean low tide level and the mean tide level. The second distinction between these communities has to do with whether the water is saltwater, brackish or freshwater. Brackish water supports different organisms then freshwater. A few examples of communities found in the intertidal zones are high salt marsh, low salt marsh, brackish tidal marsh, and freshwater tidal marsh. Along the SUNY-ESF Lesson 5 / 90

7 Hudson River brackish tidal marshes occur between New York City to Newburgh, and freshwater tidal marshes are found from Newburgh to Troy. Irregularly Flooded Zone above average high-tide level; this area is flooded with spring high tides and storm events This community along the river is called the tidal swamp. The tidal swamp is less frequently observed along the Hudson River. It occurs where the change from inter-tidal communities to upland communities is more gradual, yielding the tidal swamp. Upland area beyond the reach of tides, only the highest of storm-related tides may reach Although this community is not tidally influenced, upland areas play important roles in estuarine ecosystems. These habitats that occur adjacent to wetland habitats act as watershed buffers to the water draining into the river or its tributaries. Extension: Human impacts on estuarine habitats Once you have determined how the tide behaves near your community it will be easier to interpret what kind of habitats are found along the Hudson River and it s tributaries. As an extension activity you can take a field trip to a local wetland and explore the flora and fauna with field guides. This will give students a connection with what they have learned in class to the natural world. Lesson 5 / 91 SUNY-ESF

8 Student Guide Lesson 5 Estuarine Habitats-Between Fresh and Salt Water Worksheet for looking at Estuaries of the Hudson River 1. How much does the water level change in this estuary due to the tides? 2. What types of plants are found in this type of area? Be as specific as you can identify the plants by groups or by species if at all possible! 3. What characteristics do these plants have in common? What adaptations help the plants to survive in this changeable habitat? SUNY-ESF Lesson 5 / 92

9 4. What does the soil of this area look like? Do you see anything that makes this soil different from soils found in another area? 5. What types of animals would be found in this area? Identify birds, fish, invertebrates and other animals that might call this area home. Would you find these animals in other habitats or only in an estuary? 6. What characteristics do these organisms possess that allow them to live in this habitat? Be as specific as you can! What adaptations allow these animals to live here? Lesson 5 / 93 SUNY-ESF

10 7. What is the role of plankton in an estuary habitat? Give a description of these organisms and tell why they are so important to an estuary. 8. What factors limit where and how organisms can live in an estuary? How do these limiting factors affect the ecosystem as a whole? 9. Use the space below to draw a food chain and a food web using some of the organisms you learned about in this activity. Include arrows in your diagram to show how the energy flows between the organisms. Be sure to include plankton and the original source of energy for the ecosystem. SUNY-ESF Lesson 5 / 94

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