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National Agriculture in the Classroom

Agricultural Literacy Curriculum Matrix


Companion Resource

Invasive Species Profile

In this activity students will create a profile for an invasive species in their area to gain an understanding of the diversity of organisms that can become invasive, where to go for trusted information, how humans may be involved in their introduction and spread, and what native species or resources are threatened. This activity can complement secondary level lessons on invasive species.

Time to Complete
50 minutes
Materials
  • Various art supplies (Crayons, pencils, and/or markers, blank paper)
  • Internet
  • 1 computer device per group to do research or lesson can be adapted to a computer lab
  • Invasive Species Profile PowerPoint (optional)
Procedures

Background

Interactions within a relatively stable ecosystem contribute to consistency in numbers and types of organisms over long periods of time. Invasive species represent a disruption to a relatively balanced ecosystem. Depending on the degree of disruption, the ecosystems may be resilient and return to balance. However, invasive species are a threat to biodiversity and may considerably shift the make-up of native communities.

An invasive species is defined legally in the US as “an alien species whose introduction does or is likely to cause economic or environmental harm or harm to human health…‘Alien species’ means, with respect to a particular ecosystem, any species…that is not native to that ecosystem.” Novel species can be added to a community either by natural range extensions or because they are introduced as a result of human activity.

Invasive species rank second only to habitat destruction as a threat to biodiversity. Almost half of the species in the United States that are at risk of extinction are endangered because of the effects of introduced species alone or because of their impacts combined with other processes. In fact, introduced species are considered a greater threat to native biodiversity than pollution, harvest, and disease combined. Invasive species threaten biodiversity by (1) causing disease, (2) acting as predators or parasites, (3) acting as competitors, (4) altering habitat, or (5) hybridizing with local species. 

Virtually all ecosystems are at risk from the harmful effects of introduced species. Invasive species are a major threat to our environment because they (1) can change habitats and alter ecosystem function and ecosystem services, (2) crowd out or replace native species, and (3) damage human activities, costing the economy millions of dollars. For example, costs to agriculture, forestry, fisheries, and other human activities by introduced species are estimated at $137 billion per year to the U.S. economy alone.

Procedures

  1. Provide students with access to computers with internet. Instruct students to conduct a web search for invasive species in their area (searching at the state level is recommended). Consider the following websites:
  2. Have students write an invasive species they found on the board.
  3. Discuss the diversity of organisms that can be invasive (you might encourage students to list a diversity of species so that plants, invertebrates, vertebrates, etc. are all represented)
  4. Have students share what websites they found that provided credible information.
    • Tips:
      • Federal, state, and local governments share the responsibility for preventing, eradicating, and controlling invasive species so searching government websites can be a good strategy.
      • You may want to share with students that they can conduct a Google search of just government sites by adding site:gov to their search. The same can be done for education websites by adding site:edu.
  5. Divide students into teams of 2-3 and have each group select an invasive species from the list on the board.
  6. Provide students access to a variety of art supplies (paper, pens, coloring utensils)
  7. Using PowerPoint slides 5 & 6, instruct groups to develop an invasive species profile using good sources of information. The profile must include:
    • An image or drawing of the invasive species
    • How it was introduced (and when, if possible)
    • What species or resources it threatens
    • A reason it is biologically successful (how does it outcompete other species?)
  8. After giving students time to complete their invasive species profile, have students add their answers to PowerPoint slides 7-10 based on their findings. Alternatively, the questions can be written on the board. Discuss the following questions:
    • What are common routes of introduction?
    • How are humans involved in the introduction of invasive species?
    • What kinds of problems are caused by invasive species?
    • Why are invasive species so successful?
  9. Have students imagine they are creating a list of “America’s Most Wanted” invasive species. Have students provide evidence for why their species is one of the following:
    • Most expensive to control?
    • Toughest to control?
    • Most damaging to an ecosystem?
    • Fastest invasion?
    • Sneakiest invasion?
    • Biggest up-and-coming invader?
  10. Conclude by having students discuss strategies for stopping the introduction or spread of the invasive species from their group’s profile. Discuss benefits and limitations to their solutions.
File, Map, or Graphic
Author
Jonathan Anderson, Allison Zach, Erin Ingram, and Molly Brandt
Organization
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Sources

Author Affiliations:

  • Jonathon Anderson: Norfolk High School, Norfolk, NE
  • Allison Zach: Nebraska Invasive Species Program
  • Erin Ingram: University of Nebraska-Lincoln, IANR Science Literacy Initiative, National Center for Agricultural Literacy
  • Molly Brandt: University of Nebraska-Lincoln, IANR Science Literacy Initiative, National Center for Agricultural Literacy Sources:

Invasive species background sourced from Mark McGinley (Lead Author); J. Emmett Duffy (Topic Editor) "Invasive species". In: Encyclopedia of Earth. Eds. Cutler J. Cleveland (Washington, D.C.: Environmental Information Coalition, National Council for Science and the Environment). [First published in the Encyclopedia of Earth July 25, 2010; Last revised Date April 8, 2011; Retrieved June 28, 2015

Lessons Associated with this Resource