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Lesson Plan: The Impact of Wolf Reintroduction on Yellowstone Ecosystem

Updated: Oct 19, 2023

Objective: To explore the ecological changes brought about by the reintroduction of wolves into the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and understand the concept of a trophic cascade.

Grade Level: Middle School (6th - 8th Grade)

Duration: 2 class periods

Materials Needed:

  • Access to the internet for research

  • Maps or diagrams of Yellowstone National Park

  • Writing materials

  • A projector for presentations

Lesson 1: Introduction to the Yellowstone Wolf Reintroduction (45 minutes)

Step 1: Introduction (10 minutes)

  • Begin by discussing the importance of Yellowstone National Park as a unique ecosystem.

  • Explain that in 1995, gray wolves were reintroduced to the park, and this event had a significant impact on the ecosystem.

  • Pose the central question: "How did the reintroduction of wolves change the Yellowstone ecosystem?"

Step 2: Watch a Video (15 minutes)

  • Show a short video (e.g., a documentary clip or educational video) about the Yellowstone Wolf Reintroduction.

  • Discuss with students what they observed in the video and what changes they think wolves may have brought to the ecosystem.

Step 3: Research and Discussion (20 minutes)

  • In small groups, ask students to research and discuss the following questions:

    • How did the presence of wolves affect the elk population in Yellowstone?

    • What role did beavers play in this ecosystem and how did their population change?

    • How did the presence of wolves influence vegetation in the park?

    • Have each group share their findings with the class.

Homework (optional): Assign students to write a short paragraph summarizing what they learned about the Yellowstone Wolf Reintroduction.

Lesson 2: Exploring the Trophic Cascade (45 minutes)

Step 1: Review (10 minutes)

  • Begin by reviewing the key points from the previous lesson, particularly the impact of wolves on elk, beavers, and vegetation.

Step 2: Trophic Cascade Discussion (15 minutes)

  • Explain the concept of a "trophic cascade" as a chain reaction of ecological changes triggered by the introduction or removal of a species.

  • Discuss the idea that wolves, as top predators, can have far-reaching effects on an ecosystem.

Step 3: Group Activity (15 minutes)

  • Divide the class into small groups and provide them with a trophic cascade diagram template.

  • In their groups, students should create a trophic cascade diagram that illustrates the impact of wolves on the Yellowstone ecosystem, including elk, beavers, vegetation, and other species.

  • Encourage creativity in their diagrams, using arrows, pictures, and labels to represent the connections.

Step 4: Group Presentations (5 minutes per group)

  • Each group presents their trophic cascade diagram to the class, explaining the cause-and-effect relationships they've depicted.

Homework: Ask students to reflect on how this ecological concept could apply to other ecosystems and research a trophic cascade in a different habitat.

Assessment: Review the group presentations and the homework assignments to assess the students' understanding of the Yellowstone Wolf Reintroduction and the concept of a trophic cascade.

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