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Food Chain Dynamics In A Simple Ecosystem

By J. Phil Gibson

University of Oklahoma

In this lab, students will work with a simple algae/brine shrimp environment to learn about food chains and population dynamics.

Listed in Teaching Materials | resource by group Botanical Society of America

Additional materials available

Version 1.0 - published on 30 Mar 2018 doi:10.25334/Q4P419 - cite this

Licensed under CC Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International according to these terms


Food webs and trophic dynamics are important biological topics that explain community interactions, ecosystem energetics, and other ecological phenomena. Interactions among organisms in different trophic levels is a particularly important factor shaping the structure and function of communities and ecosystems. To investigate the interactions between producers and consumers, you will construct a simple ecosystem containing an algal producer and a crustacean herbivore and observe what happens over the course of a two-week period in this simple food chain. In this experiment, you will use an experimental design  developed by Hudon and Finnerty (2013), but in a “flipped” format. You should first view the assigned videos that describe the fundamental features of the experimental procedure. Make notes about experimental design to investigate bottom-up or top-down effects in a simple ecosystem composed of a single producer and consumer species.

The producer is a unicellular, marine alga in the genus (Platymonas sp.). This species has a flagellum which allows it to swim through its aquatic environment. The consumer is Artemia salina (brine shrimp), a crustacean related to crabs and lobsters. They hatch from cysts and are easily grown in lab. The larva, called a naupilus, are active swimmers and develop into the mature adult form in a few days. The mature adults are grazers that feed on algae.

Hudon, D. and J.R. Finnerty. 2013. To build an ecosystem: an introductory lab for environmental science and biology students. The American Biology Teacher 75:186-192.


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