Enrichment 7-1: Teacher Activity Notes
What's in a Niche?
Students learn about the components of a niche by listing things they would need in various habitats.
- 1 poster-sized piece of butcher paper; Colored marking pens
Approximately 30 minutes
Prerequisites and Background Information
The students should have knowledge of the basic resources required for the survival of most living things-air, food, water, and space.
The main point of the activity is for students to see that humans fill a similar niche everywhere they go, even though they might need slightly different things. They eat a certain amount of food. They drink a certain amount of water. They build some type of shelter. They take up about the same amount of space. They need about the same amount of oxygen from the air. However, the food, shelter, space, and even air might be slightly different in each place.
To reinforce the concept of niche, you may want to describe examples of animal niches. Explain that there are animals that fill a similar niche in most habitats. For example, in a meadow the deer are the large planteaters. But in a pasture the cows are the large plant-eaters. In a rain forest the tapirs are the large plant-eaters. They eat different plants but they each fill similar niches in their habitat. You may also want to present examples of organisms that share the same habitat but occupy very different niches, such as these seabirds from the Galapagos Islands.
- The Galapagos storm petrel (a small, fast bird) flies above the water and dips down to snatch fish near the surface without entering the water.
- The brown pelican flies above the water and plunges into the water scooping up fish 30 to 60 centimeters (l to 2 feet) below the surface.
- The blue-footed booby flies above the water, plunges deeper into the surface than the brown, and catches fish about 1 meter (3 to 4 feet) below the surface.
- The albatross swims along the surface of the water and catches the fish as it swims.
- The Galapagos penguin cannot fly but swims very well. The penguin dives under the water to chase fish.
Introduce Enrichment 7-1 by reviewing with students the three basic resources of food, water, and space. They need to be able to distinguish between these basic categories and the more subtle and complex conditions that make up an organism's niche.
Step 1 Divide students into groups of four or five to work on their lists as described in Step 1 of the Procedure. Give each group a piece of butcher paper.
Assign each group one of the following habitats on which they landed:
- Tropical island
- Arctic tundra
- Open plains
Remind students that there are no usable items left from the plane.
Step 2 As students finish their lists have them tape the butcher paper on the wall or chalkboard at the front of the classroom.
Steps 3-4 Have a class discussion of the differences and similarities in the lists. Compare the lists of human requirements to the requirements for familiar animals and plants. Use the examples given in the Background Information to discuss the living and nonliving factors that make up an organism's niche.
Extend Enrichment 7-1 by having students research organisms that have very specific and interesting niches. You may want to provide books that describe the natural histories of endangered species that have very specific niches.
Use students' discussion of their survival requirements and niches to assess if students can
Enrichment 7-1 Activity Guide: What's in a Niche? (Student Reproducible)
Every living organism requires basic resources to survive: air to breathe, food (energy), water, space, and shelter. But for most organisms, the situation is a lot more complicated than that. Some animals and plants seem to be able to live and grow anywhere. But other animals and plants need a certain kind of food and a certain amount of water and have very specific space and shelter requirements. Like these plants and animals, humans have specific requirements in order to survive. In this activity you will define what your own special requirements are in order to identify the conditions of your own niche.
- Butcher paper
- Colored marking pens
Step 1 Imagine the people in your group are the survivors of an airplane crash. You are stranded in the particular region assigned by your teacher. Help will arrive in one month. Make a list of the items you will need to find in your region until help arrives. Write the approximate amounts of each item you would need. Be specific. Also list what actions you will have to take in that region in order to survive for a month. Remember that there are no usable items left from the plane.
Step 2 When you are done making your list hang it at the front of the room.
Step 3 When all the groups' lists are finished and displayed, compare the items on the lists.
- What things on the lists are the same?
- What things are different?
- Do the amounts vary from region to region?
- What categories or labels can you give the items on each list?
Step 4 The lists of items describe the resources you need and the amounts necessary. These resources define the niche you occupy in that particular environment. Discuss with your group the niche you occupy right now in your school, neighborhood, and home. What things do you need to have and do every day to live and work? What are the extra things you need to relax and be entertained? Would you consider these things part of your niche?