Habitat assessment of school grounds

Plants are the foundation upon which most ecosystems are based. Invertebrates living in the school grounds assist in pollination, breaking down plant matter and providing food for larger animals. Transects that record plant diversity and macroinvertebrate surveys can be used to assess habitat values in the grounds.

Transect

A transect is a useful tool to record what is living in the school grounds. It records the plants growing along a cross section of an area. It can be repeated in different areas of the grounds.

When investigating habitats through transects take care to:

  • respect the home of other living things
  • avoid excessive walking over or through gardens or bush areas
  • avoid removing or disturbing rocks, logs or mulch
  • keep noise levels low
  • check shoes and clothing regularly for weed seeds
  • avoid moving from a weed infested area to a less weedy area as you will transport weed seeds.

Equipment

30m string, metre rules, graph paper, clip boards, pencils

Procedure

  1. Run a 30m string line along the outer edge of an area, marked into 5m sections. Everything along this 30m line will be recorded.
  2. On graph paper rule a line to represent the length of the string line.
  3. In groups, each working in an allocated section, plot the largest plants first. Sketch the plants growing along the line and their approximate heights. Name the plants or give them descriptions. Draw any animals or other signs of life, for example, nests and termite trails.
  4. Combine each section plotted to provide an overall representation of the transect line.
  5. Analyse the results and discuss observations of the number and type of living things in different kinds of vegetation.

Macroinvertebrate survey

A macroinvertebrate survey records the mini-creatures living in the school grounds, for example, spiders, caterpillars and lady beetles. Three common methods of conducting a macroinvertebrate survey are through observation, tree shakes and leaf litter hunts. The Australia Museum’s Bugwisesite provides identification charts, recording sheets and methodology.

Observation

Examine tree trunks, shrubs and the ground looking for invertebrates or evidence of their presence, for example, spiders’ webs, ant holes. Use an identification chart to identify sightings and a list or table to record observations. Note the area of the school grounds in which observations were made.

Tree shakes

Place a light-coloured sheet or tarpaulin under a branch or a shrub or tree. Shake the branch vigorously to dislodge any macroinvertebrates. Use an identification chart to identify the invertebrates and a list or table to record their findings, noting the types or species of plants investigated.

Leaf litter hunts

Use a stick or trowel to gently scape away a small section of the top layer of leaf litter or mulch at the base of a plant. Observe any macroinvertebrates uncovered and use an identification chart to identify them.

Analyse the results

Analyse the results of the macroinvertebrate surveys looking for patterns and trends. Compare the results for the different areas and habitats and identify the areas that had the greatest diversity of macroinvertebrates. Look for correlations between plant diversity and macroinvertebrate diversity. Construct food chains of the macroinvertebrates recorded.

Syllabus content

Investigations of biodiversity uses skills in working scientifically and could be undertaken as part of investigations in the Science and Technology K-6 Syllabus and Science 7-10 Syllabus in:

  • Early Stage 1 Living world – needs of living things
  • Stage 1 Living world – living things live in different places
  • Stage 2 Living world – survival of living things
  • Stage 3 Living world – growth and survival of living things
  • Stage 4 Living world – solutions to conserving and managing sustainable ecosystems
  • Stage 5 Living world – conserving and maintaining the quality and sustainability of the environment.

Assessing habitats can be part of geographical investigations in the Geography K-10 syllabus in:

  • Stage 2 The Earth’s environment – significance of environments
  • Stage 5 Environmental change and management – environments.
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