Todd Bernstein

Issues in Contemporary Science – Biodiversity
In a general biology course, students learn about the five great extinctions as evident from discovered fossil record. The most well known mass extinction is the one which wiped out the dinosaurs. Today, there is a prevalent opinion that the world is experiencing a new mass extinction. This lesson will extend the information learned in prior courses and relate it to modern day biology. Students will first be asked to define biodiversity: what they think it means and how it can be measured. Then, students will be given a brief recounting of the history of life, with a focus on the five great mass extinctions, and concluding with the impact of human development on the environment. Students are then asked to engage in open discussion on whether they believe the world is indeed in a mass extinction, what might be the effects of a mass extinction should one exist, and whether efforts should be made to stop it. To conclude the lesson, students will be given a brief history of biodiversity preservation efforts. They will be assigned the task of researching a group dedicated to preserving one or more species threatened by extinction and to respond with their opinions on whether this group's efforts are admirable or worthwhile.

Students will be able to:
• • •

Define biodiversity and its usage Compare historical biodiversity to that of the present day Argue for or against efforts to maintain biodiversity

Materials and Preparation

One class period (45 minutes)

For a Do Now activity (10-15 minutes), students are asked to define in their own words what they think biodiversity means. They will also be asked to give a couple examples of what biodiversity might measure (number of species, number of organisms, genetic diversity in a given gene pool). Discuss that biodiversity is a general term used to measure the variation of life within a given ecosystem, biome, or for the entire planet. Teacher will then give a brief (5-10 minutes) lecture on the history of the diversity of life. Specifically, the lecture should highlight the dramatic increase in biodiversity from the beginnings of life to the present day, as well as the overall decrease of extinction percentage in marine life.

Students should then be guided in a discussion on present day biodiversity. Specific topics to discuss are the existence of a mass extinction in the present day, the effects of human development on the environment and taxonomic variation, and the consequences of a mass extinction should one exist. Teacher will then give a brief (5-10 minutes) lecture on the history of efforts to preserve biodiversity. Students will be assigned their homework, which is to research an organization dedicated to preserving biodiversity and agree or disagree with its position.

For homework, students should research an organization or charity dedicated to the preservation of biodiversity. It may be for a particular species, group of species, or biodiversity in general. Along with providing some general background information on the organization (its inception, its goals, etc.), the student should write a response, either agreeing or disagreeing with the organization's aims.

Supplemental Activities

Attached handout 1, Increasing Biodiversity/Decreasing Extinction

A History of Biodiversity

Graphics and Information taken from

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