Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Finishing Biomes

Today students started with a short jump in on seashores. Then they participated in a "This or That?" Challenge. There were a couple of bonuses that pushed some students scores over the top. Top scores went to Elijah, Heidi, Jessica, Micheal, and Carlton (and maybe someone else).

We finished up biome notes today by discussing salt marshes and tidal flats, mangroves, and the photic vs. aphotic.

Salt Marshes are one of the most productive ecosystems, but nothing eats the salt marsh grass when its alive... once the anaerobic bacteria break it down into black mush, then other organisms eat it.

Mangroves are trees that can grow in salt water. They have crazy prop roots or finger like roots called pneu- mato- phores that stick up out of the water so the tree can get oxygen during high tide. The roots provide a lot of substrate that a lot of fouling organisms will colonize and use as habitat.

Photic vs Aphotic is an odd one involving the light and dark zones of the ocean. Some organisms hide in teh dark aphotic zone during the day and migrate up to the surface (the photic zone) at night to eat the phytoplankton. Predators also migrate to eat the things that are eating the phytoplankton.

We finished class with a partner challenge identifying and classifying the biomes by their characteristics. The top score went to Elijah and Jeremiah.

The Unit 3 Test will be on Friday. Packets will be due at that time.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Beginning Biomes

Students have been learning all the different biomes that exist in the oceans. Most people have heard of coral reefs and think about the beach, but there are actually many different biomes in the ocean.

Today we started by discussing the kelp forest. Kelp forests are dominated by kelp that can grow to 300 feet tall. The kelp is held near the surface by lots of air bladders. Kelp forests are important because they provide a lot of substrate and habitat for organisms to live, hide and eat.

We also discussed sea grass beds. Sea grass is super-important for stabilizing the substrate and holding the sand down. This promotes water clarity and decreases turbidity. Nothing eats sea grass when it is alive except for manatees. Everything else eats it after the bacteria have decomposed it a bit.

One of the weird- est, but also most inter- esting is Whalefall. Whalefall is when a dead whale settles to the bottom of the ocean and organisms move in to feed on the carcass until even the bones are decomposed. Hagfish are a dominant scavenger as well as bacteria. It may not seem like a big deal, but this biome boasts over 160 species that are not found on the surrounding benthos. More info can be found at the link above, or here. Listen to a podcast here.

Deep sea benthos is another biome and it is pretty boring. Its a gooey squishy substrate populated by some dd scavengers, but there is not a high biodiversity and not a lot of food to eat.

Not all biomes are found at the bottom of the sea. Along coasts you can find rocky coasts, sandy beaches, salt marshes, mangroves, sea grass beds, kelp forests, and fouling communities.

I think fouling communities are really interesting... because all these organisms need is a hard substrate (surface) to stick on. This could be a dock, a pier, a boat, or anything that's in the water long enough. Most people have seen all the 'stuff' growing on the pole legs of piers and docks, but don't really think of the variety of organisms that grow there - or their importance. Most of these organisms are filter feeders and do a lot for water quality. They also break down the surfaces like scavengers... not something we want for our boats and docks we use, but important nonetheless.

There is a lot of information to learn this unit. The Unit 3 Test is one of the hardest of the year, and it will be on Friday.

Friday, September 10, 2010


Today we discussed zonation in Marine Ecology. Zonation happens when organisms are adapted to a very specific set of conditions. Because some organisms are better adapted to these certain conditions, we see bands of organisms occupying zones. Today we talked about zonation and specifically how it affects the rocky coastline.

Students identified zones on rocky coast pictures and took notes on the material. Here is an example of a photo where the zones can clearly be seen by changes in dominant seaweeds. The Fucus would in the lower intertidal zone and the Pelvetia would be in the upper intertidal zone. It is easy to see the high water mark or where the high tide will reach. You can also see the lichens in the spray zone.

The spray zone is one of the hardest areas to live in because of the huge changes in salinity and temperature.

We finished class by discussing coral reefs and passing around coral skeletons made of calcium carbonate that I have collected on my travels and inherited from my grandmother. Each hole in the coral houses a polyp... and all the polyps make up the coral colony. So the polyps make up a superorganism. We then watched some BluePlanet and learned about some of their predators like the crown of thorns sea star and saw how the corals that sometimes look like rocks are able to attack and eat each other.

This is the crown of thorns and you can see the white skeleton of the coral it has consumed on the bottom.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Plankton Grand Prix and Observations

Today students started the day with a BrainPop about algae. Students learned about the adaptations of seaweed which include flexibility, gels to prevent drying out, air bladders to stay near the surface, and bad taste to keep snails from eating them.

Today students were responsible for making observations of seaweed, both fresh (thanks Mel and Carol for sending us some) and dried. I have a variety of brown algaes, but Mrs. R sent over some red seaweed for us to look at as well.

Students also made plankton observations using water from the pond behind the school. There were a variety of phytoplankton (green) and some zooplankton (mostly clear and moving). The zooplankton are usually around pond detritus because that's what they eat. On one slide we found a huge clear wormy plankton oozing and snaking its way through the detritus as it ate. It was so big I couldn't even put the microscope on the highest objective.

 We finished class with the Plankton Grand Prix. We had a few more competitors and a couple redos. Many racers were disqualified because their plankton were floaters and the object was to sink slowly. Because of our imprecise time measurements, there is a three-way tie for third. Their plankton are pictured.
1 - Delafayette - Epic Flyer - 19.6 s
2 - Micheal - Spirit of Sinkyton - 4.5 s
3 - Noel - Noel Plankton - 4.18
     Kaitlin - Four Eyes - 4.12
     Jacob -  Big Daddy Snorkelton - 4s

Eli-peezy and Joe Blow - both disqualified "floaters"
It is worthy to note that Nate tried out Life Wraft for a second time and in his second trial did outlast Delafayette's with a thirty second free fall. Here are some photos from class.
Delafayette's Epic Flyer and Corrin's Luscious Lips plankton. 

Jessica waits to see if Twirly is going to sink

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Seaweed and the Plankton Grand Prix

Students started with some questions about plankton (that's what this week's quiz will be on) and watched a Blue Planet segment where whales feed on krill, a type of zooplankton that is numerous and very important in the Southern Ocean.

Students learned about the three types of seaweed. Seaweed and algae are the same thing and they are classified by pigment type - red, brown, or green. Red seaweeds are the most common, but we don't see a lot of them because they like tropical waters and deep waters. Brown algae is the most common seaweed on our coast, whereas green algae is the most common in the freshwater of Virginia. Tomorrow students will make observations of seaweed to look for air bladders and other special adaptations.

Most of the class was spent on the Plankton Grand Prix. Students finished up their designs and the racing has begun. There have been a few floaters that have been disqualified, but I have been both surprised and pleased by the number of plankton that do sink slowly. There are still plankton to race... so I am not sure who the winner is just yet.

Photos will be added tomorrow!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010


We are learning about plankton! Plankton include organisms that drift through the seas that cannot swim and do not attach to the bottom. Plankton can be classified a variety of ways. The first way is to classify them by size. Microplankton and nannoplankton require a microscope if you want to see them because they are so tiny. Macroplankton are small, but you can see them without a microscope. Megaplankton are big enough to pick up and include things like jellies.

Another easy way to classify plankton is into plants and animals. Phytoplankton are tiny plants that photosynthesize and make their own food. Zooplankton (belong in the the zoo) and are animal plankton.

Plankton can also be classified as holoplankton and meroplankton. Holoplankton are plankton for their whole lives (forever) and meroplankton are only plankton for part of their lives. The meroplankton may be plankton when they are eggs, larvae, juveniles, all of those stages, or only some of those stages. Most of the invertebrates and fish in the ocean spend some time in their life as a plankton because it allows them to spread around the ocean and find new places to live. This photo is a meroplankton snail larvae that grows into a poisonous cone snail.This is my favorite website about plankton and it is where all my photos come from. Check out the other types of meroplankton.

Students have drawn their own plankton, tried to match meroplankton to the adult forms, and are currently designing plankton to compete in the Plankton Grand Prix - where the object is to sink slowly.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Catching up and Finishing

Today students started with some scenarios and they needed to identify whether the scenarios were predation, competition, mutualism, commensalism, or parasitism. Students also worked on a crossword covering that material and all the types of fish coloration.

Giant clams have a mutual relationship with tiny zooxanthellae algae that live in their tissues. The clams provide a home and some nutrients to the zoox algae. The zoox algae give the giant clams their pretty colors and help give them food by photosynthesizing. 

Students spent time reviewing and took their Unit 2 Ecology Test.

Tomorrow students will have new seats and begin Unit 3 Plants Plankton and Biomes

Fish Coloration courtesy of Harley

We learned about fish and how the fish hide from predators. We learned about the different types and how they use camouflage.

 After learning them, we had to color our own fish. These are Brandon's fish.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Tuesday and Wednesday Review

We have spent the last couple days reviewing Unit 2 Ecology.

We have done challenges looking at large photos and making educated guesses. We matched vocabulary cards and did puzzles to make sure we understood terminology (as well as getting observed by half a dozen teachers and administrators). We have worked on review sheets, colored fish, and made sure vocabulary was done.

Most of the material covered in this unit will be seen over and over in future units.

Parrotfish are part of the nekton because they swim. They are omnivores because they eat coral (animal) and algae (plants). This fish is a male because it is more colorful than its female counterpart. Some may consider this warning coloration because it will chomp on things that try to mess with it. An odd part of their niche is that the coral they digest is where most of the white sand in tropical locations comes from.

Computer Lab Etiquette

You are in the computer lab to do work for this class. If you are not doing work, then we will have problems.

Do not pack up early. Work until the bell or until MsJ says.

SAVE OFTEN. And if you save to a key, also save it to your number. If you lose it, you will have to do it again.

If MsJ asks for your attention, stop what you are doing and listen to what she has to say.

You may watch videos about your organism through reliable websites.

You may listen to music through the computer if you have your own headphones. Rule1 MsJ cannot hear it. You get one warning. Rule2 Turn it on and listen – no million clicks and constant changing. Take both ear phones out when MsJ is talking.