Habitat Hit – What Happened Here?

Grade: 4 to 7

Duration: 1.5-2 hours

Setting: Indoor

Subjects: Arts Education, Science

Physical Activity: No

Students analyze paired images of healthy habitats and those with invasive species (unhealthy habitats) to understand some impacts of invasive species. Then students do an art project showing a healthy habitat overlaid with a stencil outline of an invasive species.

This activity is part of the Lesson “A Beginner’s Guide to Invasive Species”, where students engage in discussion, analysis, investigations, and interactive indoor and outdoor games to spark their curiosity, learn about the issue of invasive species and how they impact us all.

Related activities
Inquiry Questions
  • How do invasive species alter habitats?
  • How do invasive species affect biodiversity?
BC Curriculum Links

Science Big Ideas

  • All living things sense and respond to their environment (Grade 4)
  • Multicellular organisms have organ systems that enable them to survive and interact within their environment (Grade 5)
  • Multicellular organisms rely on internal systems to survive, reproduce, and interact with their environment (Grade 6)
  • Evolution by natural selection provides an explanation for the diversity and survival of living things (Grade 7)
Materials
  • Paper, pencil crayons or watercolour paints; thin tipped Sharpies/black, permanent markers
Activity downloads
Background

All living organisms need certain things in order to survive and reproduce.  This includes food, water, shelter, and space, in a suitable arrangement.  These components together are called a habitat.  For example, a bear needs a variety of foods to eat at different times of the year, such as berries and salmon. It also needs forests and a den in which to hibernate in the winter.  Bears require large areas of space that they live and travel within, in order to have all of their basic needs met and to find a mate and reproduce.  A habitat for a plant must have the right amount and combination of sunlight, temperature, soil nutrients, and water.

Habitats, like living organisms, can be healthy or unhealthy.  A healthy habitat supports a diversity of life. Invasive species negatively impact other species and habitats in many ways, such as by spreading disease, by directly eating or killing native species, or by outcompeting them by taking more of their fair share of food, water, shelter, or space.  Some invasive species change ecosystem processes, causing increased fire frequency or increased sedimentation in lakes and ponds. For example, Scotch broom is flammable, increasing fire frequency and intensity.  Sometimes the impacts of invasive species on native species or habitats aren’t noticeable to the casual observer.  And invasive species can be beautiful! In other cases, the impacts of invasive species on native species and habitats may be obvious and dramatic.

See Background on Invasive Species for Educators for additional information on invasive species.

Preparation
  • Download Healthy-Unhealthy Images to show as a slide show or with an overhead projector.
  • Make copies of Invasive Species Stencils; at least enough for one stencil per student.
Procedure

Part 1.  Image Analysis

Students look at paired images of healthy habitats and those with invasive species (unhealthy habitats) to understand some impacts of invasive species.

  1. Make two columns on the board for “healthy” and “unhealthy”. How does one feel, act, and look when one is healthy or unhealthy?  Is sick the same as unhealthy? (For example, one may be unhealthy without being sick, but over time being unhealthy might lead to sickness).  If you have a pet, how can you tell if your pet is healthy or unhealthy? What about a plant in your house, garden, or in the wild?  Write the descriptions and characteristics of healthy and unhealthy in the appropriate column on the board.  (Note: Keep the conversation impersonal and light. The focus could be more on plants and animals in the wild than on people, if more appropriate.)
  2. Next discuss what a healthy habitat would look like.  Remind students of the components of a habitat and what all living things need in order to survive (food, water, shelter, and space, in a suitable arrangement). Have students visualize their favourite place in nature, such as a forest, lake, river, grassland, mountain, or ocean.  Students could discuss their special place in small groups. What are some signs that their special place is healthy or unhealthy?  Students may mention things like pollution or garbage.  Also ask about the animals and plants that typically live at their special place, what they need to survive and what would happen if their needs weren’t met.  How might someone know if their special place in nature wasn’t healthy?

Discuss how sometimes it is difficult to tell if a habitat is healthy or unhealthy. Many invasive species are beautiful! Sometimes areas that are impacted by invasive species look colourful and pretty, such as an expansive meadow of flowering hawkweed or Oxeye daisy. Large areas dominated by one species may in fact indicate that an invasive species has taken over an area, with negative impacts on native species and habitats.

  • Share the Healthy-Unhealthy Images and/or use some of your own that are specific to your region. Have students spot the differences between the image pairs while discussing in small groups.  Another option is to cut out the descriptive text for students in the table on the Healthy-Unhealthy Images Copy Page and have students match the text to the appropriate image.
  • Have students vote on whether each image is “healthy” or “unhealthy” (impacted by invasive species).
  • Spot the differences! Compare and contrast the pairs of images. 
  • After looking at all the images, discuss the trends and patterns. What are some of the common impacts of invasive species that are evident from the images (such as a loss of biodiversity/reduction in the numbers of different types of species).  How did the changes occur? (For example, did the invasive species eat native species or outcompete them for food or shelter?) How do you think the invasive species got there? How can their spread be prevented or controlled?

Part 2. Art Project

Students make a drawing of a healthy habitat, and then overlay outlines of an invasive species that has an impact on that habitat.

  1. Tell the students they are going to draw a healthy habitat of their choice. Give them options of drawing a scene from a forest, garden/farm, pond/lake, or ocean.  Other habitats could be included that students are familiar with and connected to, such as river or grassland; stencils are not provided for these, but you could create a stencil of your own.  For example, stencils could be made of Knotweed or Thistle for grasslands; Purple loosestrife, Yellow flag iris, or American bullfrog for wetlands.
  2. Review or make a list of the types of native species that might be commonly found in each habitat type. Consider plants, fungi, various types of invertebrates (such as worms, bees, butterflies, dragonflies, slugs, snails, crabs, sea stars, etc.), fish, amphibians and reptiles, birds, and mammals.  Use local field guides if desired.
  3. Students should draw their healthy habitat so that it includes numerous types of plants and animals that could be found there.  It isn’t critical to know specific details on species; encourage students to include drawing natural life with a diversity of colours, shapes, sizes, and forms.  People could also be in their drawing, doing activities that they would do in that place (such as fishing, hiking, gathering fruit and berries). 
  4. After their healthy habitat is completed, the invasive species arrive.  Tell the students the following:
  5. Lakes and Ponds: Someone no longer wanted their pet Goldfish and set them free into the pond!  Now there are so many Goldfish and they are eating up the aquatic plants, fish, and invertebrates.
  6. Oceans: The European green crab has arrived, accidentally dumped as tiny larvae (baby crabs) from a ship’s ballast waters.  Now they are aggressively taking over, digging in the sand, cutting up eelgrass, and eating all the marine invertebrates they can.
  7. Forests: English ivy has escaped from someone’s garden into a nearby forest where it is forming a thick mat, smothering the native wildflowers on the ground and strangling the trees as they climb and spread higher.
  8. Farms and Gardens: The Brown marmorated stink bug hitched a ride on the outside of a truck and now they are everywhere, eating up all of the apples, pears, berries, grapes, vegetables, and even the ornamental plants!
  9. Students use a thin-tipped black marker/Sharpie to outline the stencil of the invasive species for their habitat in numerous places across their drawing. Stencils could be drawn directly on the artwork or onto a sheet protector overlay.
  10. Display the artwork and share photos of them with us!
Share with us!

We’d love to have your feedback and see photos of your students’ learning and participation in this activity. Send to education.lead@bcinvasives.ca for the opportunity to win resources and have your class have a virtual visit with an invasive species expert!

Extensions
  • Have students write a story about their habitat and the changes that occurred there over time with the introduction of the invasive species. Can they give their story a “happy ending”? How was the habitat restored to a healthy state?
  • Get outdoors! Get to know a habitat near you and the species that call it home, including native and invasive animals and plants.