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Exploring the Ecology of Gorongosa

Author(s): Jennifer Carmichael

San Diego Mesa College

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Students learn about bottleneck events, population demographics and growth, ecological niches and competition, food chains/webs and ecological disturbances through past and current data on Gorongosa National Park.

Licensed under CC Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International according to these terms

Version 1.0 - published on 20 Feb 2018 doi:10.25334/Q4N09N - cite this


  • Population Activity
    • The supplemental data sheet includes population size and distribution data for three species in Gorongosa: waterbucks, elephants, and zebras, and figures of expected versus observed population growth of waterbucks and elephants.
    • The activity worksheet introduces students to:
      • Basic population demographics of size, density, and distribution. They use the supplemental data to determine these values for each species.
      • Population growth. Students use the supplemental data to calculate birth, death and maturation rates for waterbucks and elephants. They compare the growth figures in the supplemental data between waterbucks and elephants. They should observe that while the observed matches the expected the waterbucks are recovering much quicker than elephants. Students should correlated this to the shorter gestation period of waterbucks as well as the lower death rate of elephants (due to longer lifespan). They should also observe both populations are still exhibiting exponential growth.
      • Carrying Capacity. Students are asked to explore whether they think there is a maximum number to a population and why or why not. They are also asked to speculate on what they think will happen to the waterbuck population since it’s growth is increasing very rapidly.
      • Bottleneck: Since Gorongosa experienced an extreme bottleneck event, it is not surprising the zebra population size is low and is remaining low. Students explore why they think this is for zebras but not the case for waterbucks and/or elephants.


  • Community Activity
    • The supplemental data sheet contains information on all mammals found in Gorongosa and they are grouped according to species frequency in the park. There is also information on the different types of vegetation (biomes) found in the park.
    • The activity worksheet introduces students to:
      •  Biodiversity characteristics of species richness and evenness. Students also are asked to correlate these characteristics to different types of vegetation.
      • Ecological niche. Students explore consequences to when two species’ niches overlap.
      • Symbiotic relationships: Students explore predator-prey relationships as well as adaptations in both organisms using examples of lions and crocodiles in Gorongosa.
      • Keystone species: Students explore why the lion population of Gorongosa has not recovered and its effect to the community.


  • Ecosystems Activity
    • The supplemental data sheet contains cards on different species (both producers and consumers) and what their food/energy source is, as well as cards on different types of disturbances specific to Gorongosa.
    • The activity worksheet introduces students to:
      • Organism’s role in the ecosystem: producer, consumer and decomposer and trophic levels.
      • Food chains: Students construct simple food chains using four species found on their cards representing producer, primary, secondary and tertiary consumers. Additionally they also learn about the loss of energy as trophic levels increase.
      • Food webs: Students add to their food chains additional species to illustrate a more realistic flow of energy in the community. Students also explore the effects to the community when different trophic levels are lost.
      • Disturbances: Students randomly pick a disturbance card and describe both positive and negative effects of it on Gorongosa.


I wanted a comprehensive analysis of Gorongosa that also matched the concepts discussed in the textbook. Thus I drew from several HHMI resources and outside resources ( and I took bit from different resources and tied them together in the outline of populations, communities and ecosystems. This allowed for incorporation of different data and resource types, such as observed population counts, “real” distribution maps, and visual (from the species/disturbance cards).

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