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Earth Systems Science Core
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Photo courtesy Evan Whitaker

In this photo from Mammoth Hot Springs at Yellowstone National Park, we see an ecosystem where hot water provides the environment for certain microorganisms to grow. These organisms, in turn, capture calcium and other elements from the environment and create stony mounds which change the path of water flow. Working together, these abiotic and biotic factors create a unique and constantly changing ecosystem.



Your challenge in this activity will be to plan and conduct an experiment to investigate what happens to a small ecosystem when you change one abiotic or biotic factor. Examples of water ecosystems are shown below.



  • Two identical containers such as jars or bottles.
  • Abiotic components
    • sticks
    • stones
    • sand
    • soil
    • water
    • other abiotic materials
  • Biotic components (organisms)
    • plants
    • pond water organisms
    • worms
    • snails
    • insects
    • small fish
    • other small organisms

    (please don't use amphibians, reptiles or mammals in your ecosystems for this experiment)

  • Other supplies or equipment to meet the needs of your plan
Safety concerns: Be sure to keep all animal, and chemical safety rules. As with all science lab activities, the most important safety rule is to follow all teacher directions.


  1. Take time to design an ecosystem.
    • This might be as simple as a jar of pond water or as complex as a woodland terrarium.
    • Choose what interests you and what you have the resources to do.
    • Share your design with your teacher or parent before you begin.
    • (Hint: If you are struggling for ideas, search the Internet with the words "Bottle Biology." You will likely find many great ideas for building simple, cheap ecosystems.)
  2. Create two identical ecosystems. Make everything as similar as you can.
  3. Now choose oneabiotic or biotic factor that you can easily change. Abiotic factors might include temperature, water, light, or the addition of a little fertilizer to one ecosystem. Biotic factors might include adding grass seed, extra snails, more fish or organic matter to one ecosystem.
    • Make the single abiotic or biotic change to only one of your ecosystems.
  4. Record detailed observations daily for seven days. Identify any changes you see in each of the ecosystems. You might need to use a magnifying glass or microscope to see some changes. You may need to request equipment from a teacher to measure abiotic factors like pH, dissolved oxygen, dissolved carbon dioxide or humidity.
  5. Prepare a written report with your observations, data and any graphs or pictures you might have drawn or taken. Make sure to record your thoughts and evidence regarding the effect of the abiotic or biotic change you made to one of the ecosystems.
  6. Share your report with your teacher, a parent or guardian, and/or classmates.


Can be done in groups of two to four.

Review science lab safety rules here.

Get the plug-ins: Get Adobe Acrobat Reader and Get Quicktime Player. (The QuickTime plug-in is needed to play sounds and movies correctly.)

Want to share photos of you or your friends doing this activity? Send it in an e-mail with the following information:

  1. The title of the activity
  2. The URL (Internet address)
  3. Your name.

Remember that no pictures can be used that show student faces or student names on it. 

Teachers should view the Teacher Site Map to relate Sci-ber text and the USOE Earth Systems Science core.


Updated October 24, 2008 by: Glen Westbroek

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