Learning Goals

Through this rotation we will be able to:

  • demonstrate ways that nutrients move through ecosystems in cycles.
  • outline how energy enters ecosystems through photosynthesis, is transferred through cellular respiration, and is eventually lost as heat.
  • Provide examples of producers, consumers, and decomposers and explain how they are related through food webs and energy pyramids.
  • identify Earth’s four spheres (biosphere, hydrosphere, lithosphere, and atmosphere), and describe how these spheres interact to maintain sustainability and biodiversity

Computer Activity: Earth’s Spheres

  •  Read through the following note.  Take any notes that you need to support your learning and to remember the spheres.
  • Complete Assignment 1 as a group to crowd source ideas – submit your own work!
  • Complete Assignment 2 individually.  Submit the digital file to this dropbox.

Image result for four spheres of the earth

How are the spheres connected?

These spheres are closely connected in many ways. For example, many birds (biosphere) fly through the air (atmosphere), while water (hydrosphere) often flows through the soil (lithosphere). In fact, the spheres are so closely connected that a change in one sphere often results in a change in one or more of the other spheres.



Illustration of all the connections between the four spheres as well as between each of the spheres and an event.




Interactions may occur between spheres; for example, warm water from the ocean evaporates until the atmosphere above cannot hold any more moisture.  The wind (atmosphere) moves the moisture (water vapour) over a colder part of the ocean.  The atmosphere becomes cold and the water vapour changes to rain.  The rain falls on the ocean and some islands in the area get heavy rain too. 

Spheres may also be affected due to an event, which may occur naturally such as a hurricane, volcanic eruption, or thunderstorm, or they may be caused by humans such as water pollution or climate change.

Analysis of Sphere Interactions

Image result for four spheres of the earth


When analyzing interactions between spheres and events it is important to explain why or how the interactions occur. For example “A decrease in vegetation may have resulted in increased soil erosion because there were fewer roots to hold the soil in place.”


In this lithosphere-biosphere interaction it is not simply stated that loss of vegetation resulted in more soil erosion. The statement demonstrates an understanding of the science and the interaction by explaining the reason for the interaction (fewer roots to hold the soil in place).



Assignment 1: Sphere to Sphere interaction

Do as a Group to problem solve these new ideas (write your answers separately!!)

Observe the following image of a thunderstorm. Identify how this natural event affects each of the four spheres. Describe three sphere-sphere interactions. Answer in point form.

Photo of twin lightning strikes highlighting the night sky with trees on the horizon.

Image courtesy of NASA.



Assignment 2: Connecting the Spheres


Complete the following assignment and submit your work to the dropbox – so that you can have pictures in your work!!

Identify and locate one natural event and one human caused event.

Complete the following in a report for each of the events:

  1. Include the image with a brief description.
  2. Identify how the event affects each of the four spheres. Recall the detail required when analyzing the interactions between spheres and the event.
  3. Describe four different sphere-sphere interactions.

You may show your work in the form of a slide show, word document, or flow diagram.

Video Clip Activity: Cycles and Interactions

Obtain a netbook.

** You will be watching 4 sets of clips.

 Watch  ‘Ecosystems and Cycles of Nature’.  While watching this 20 minute clip, make some jot notes.  You may have to pause and rewind to make good notes as there is lots of information in this clip.

  • ***After watching, take your notes and use them to create a set of 5 questions. Use the Q-Chart to help you develop rich questions.

Watch and make ‘jot notes’ for ‘Abiotic and Biotic Factors’ and ‘Energy Flow’ clips.  These are short 2 minute clips.

Watch ‘Coral Reefs’ and answer the following questions…

  • Why do you think the polyps only feed on plankton at night?
  • What do you think would happen to reef dwellers (e.g., coral, parrot fish, sea cucumbers) if the algae were not able to photosynthesize?
  • What is a double diet? What do you think the advantages are, if any, of having a double diet?
  • How does energy flow through the reef ecosystem (think about food web)?

**Submit all work to Ms Faulkner.


Lab Activity: Relationship, Cycles and Energy

Obtain an ‘Investigating Science 9’ textbook. 

  • Turn to page 23 and READ the entire ‘Quick Lab – Finding Relationships Among Organisms’.  Do questions 1-4.
  • Turn to page 33 and READ the complete the ‘Quick Lab – Analyzing Cycles’.  Do questions 1-8.

    ** Submit all work to Ms Faulkner!

Low Tech: Nutrient Cycles and Energy Flow

Obtain an ‘Investigating Science 9’ textbook.

  • Pick a note taking style and try it out.
  • Read pages 22-32. While reading take brief point form notes and include any relevant drawings.  Remember that not all the information needs to be written in your notes!
  • Submit your notes to Ms Faulkner.

SmartBoard Activity: The Functioning of an Ecosystem

  • Read through the text and define the following terms: carrying capacity, ecosystem, biotic and abiotic factor (you might want to draw the diagram).
  • Complete the assignment section.
  • Submit individually


Functioning Ecosystem

An image of the Earth from space. 

“All life exists in a thin layer wrapped around the globe, caught between the molten heat of the earth’s interior and the cold immensities of space. The biosphere, the only part of the entire universe known to support life…proportionately is no thicker than the shine on a billiard ball.”

Lean and Hinricksen 1992

The quote above illustrates the importance of and the need to pay attention to what is occurring in our biosphere. The biosphere is the small area of the Earth where life can coexist. The ability of the land to provide resources for a population is limited; the population number that the resources can support is called the carrying capacity.

Carrying Capacity

The Earth can only support so many people without causing permanent damage to the environment. The maximum population of a species that can be supported by an area without causing permanent damage to the environment is known as the carrying capacity. If a species’ population number rises above the carrying capacity, damage to the environment may occur, and the species numbers will eventually start to decline due to a lack of resources such as food, or because of increased predation or disease.

The carrying capacity for humans is very hard to measure because of changing technologies, and the variety of lifestyles and consumption habits of the world’s population. Some people think the current estimated world population of 6.7 billion people already exceeds the Earth’s carrying capacity. This would definitely be true if the entire world were to live the lifestyle of an average Canadian!


What do you think would happen if a population of animals exceeded the carrying capacity? What would happen to the sustainability of the ecosystem?

Lessons from the Past


A series of 15 human like statues lining the coast of Easter Island.

These moai were restored in the 1990’s by a Japanese research team
after a cyclone knocked them over in the 1960’s.

Arrival of the first settlers to Easter Island is thought to have occurred around the year 700. Trees and many different plant species were once widely abundant on the island, and the soils were rich and fertile. The civilization then grew as the agricultural and fishing industries provided much needed resources. The population deforested large sections of the island to aid in the construction and the movement of large stone statues, called the moai, which were a main part of their cultural identity.

Deforestation eventually resulted in widespread soil erosion leading to the extinction of over half of the native plant species. Birds disappeared along with the loss of their nesting habitat. A loss of agricultural crops due to the degraded soils resulted in famine, sickness, and eventually death for much of the population.  Two lessons can be learned from Easter Island. The first is that the rapid growth of the civilization possibly far exceeded the carrying capacity. The second is that if the civilization had practiced sustainable methods in harvesting the trees and their agricultural lands, perhaps the ecosystem would not have collapsed so quickly.


An ecosystem is a community of plants and animals within a particular environment. It is linked by the flow of materials through abiotic (non-living) and biotic (living) factors. Therefore, ecosystems can range in size from a drop of water to the whole Earth. They do not have clear boundaries as factors move in and out of different ecosystems (e.g., migrating animals or nutrients washed downstream).

A simplified illustration of an ecosystem boundary showing the flow of materials between
some abiotic and biotic components and the movement out of and into the defined ecosystem.


 Illustration of a theoretical ecosystem boundary showing the movement of biotic and abiotic factors into and out of the ecosystem as well as between.


Assignment:  Working to Create a Functioning Ecosystem

Ecosystems are composed of living things and the physical environment with which they interact. Different species within an ecosystem have different functions that help cycle energy from the Sun—the source of nearly all energy that is critical to life on Earth—through it. Some species are producers, which convert sunlight into chemical energy through photosynthesis. Others are consumers, which feed on producers (and other consumers). These species can be further organized into groups or levels called trophic levels. Organisms at higher trophic levels feed on those at lower levels. For example, in a marsh ecosystem, grasses produce food directly from sunlight, grasshoppers feed on marsh grasses, and shrews eat grasshoppers.

Simple models called food chains depict one possible path along which energy moves through an ecosystem—as from producer A to consumer B to consumer C. Most consumers have more than one food source, however. Therefore, a more complex model called a food web is used to show how the various food chains in an ecosystem are connected. In the Antarctic ecosystem, both algae and small, shrimp-like crustaceans called krill are connected by arrows to fish, which consume them. Because krill are also consumed by birds and blue whales, arrows connect to each of those animals as well as to fish. In all cases, arrows point in the direction in which energy moves to the consumer. Because killer whales eat blue whales, fish, birds, and seals, and because killer whales have no natural predators in the Antarctic ecosystem, killer whales are said to be the Antarctic food web’s top predator.

Two other essential members of the food web are decomposers and scavengers. These are an ecosystem’s primary recyclers, which feed on dead plant and animal life, breaking down organic waste material and returning essential elements, including nitrogen and phosphorous, to the ecosystem.

Organisms within an ecosystem rely on others as food sources, so any disturbance in population can have broad and lasting effects. For example, in the Antarctic food web, if krill were to vanish from Antarctic waters, blue and other baleen whales would follow. These species feed exclusively on krill. Penguins and seals feed on krill in part, but also on other animals that depend exclusively on krill, so they would be affected as well. Without krill, other primary consumers, including zooplankton, would be consumed in greater volume. With too much competition and not enough food, many different animals would ultimately disappear.

Task: Build a food web–a complex model that shows how various food chains in an ecosystem are connected–using this interactive game adapted from the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences. Players must position the names of producers and consumers in the correct places in a diagram. The completed diagram reveals how energy flows through an Antarctic ecosystem and the relationships between predators and prey.  Click on the link to activate the interactive.

Antarctic Food Web Interactive – https://www.pbslearningmedia.org/student/code/earth06675/ 

Discussion Questions

**These questions need to be submitted by each student individually.

Draw the completed food web to make reference to it in the questions below!

  1. Which organism depicted in this food web is a producer? From where do producers obtain their energy?
  2. Which organisms in this food web are consumers?
  3. How do you think tiny krill provide enough food to sustain whales?
  4. What do you think would happen if krill were to vanish from the ecosystem?
  5. What do you think would happen if killer whales were to vanish?