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Terrestrial Trophic Cascades & Population Structure

By Gregory Zimmerman, J. Phil Gibson1

University of Oklahoma

In this activity, students will use data from natural parks to examine trophic cascades.

Listed in Teaching Materials | resource by group Plants by the Numbers

Version 1.0.0 - published on 22 Jun 2018 doi:10.25334/Q4B717 - cite this

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

Adapted from: Terrestrial Trophic Cascades & Population Structure v 1.0


This resource is a case study learning activity to accompany the HHMI Video Some Animals Are More Equal than Others: Keystone Species and Trophic Cascades.

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Faculty Mentoring Network Implementation Notes

Gregory Zimmerman, Professor of Biology, Lake Superior State University, Spring 2018


I implemented the Trophic Cascades module. I was not teaching an first-year bio course this past spring semester, so I piloted it in my Biostats (BIOL280) class, asking the students to evaluate the exercise and explain whether they thought it should be used in our first-year Organismal Bio class (BIOL132). The only modification I made was to remove the ‘answer’ slides. Students worked in groups of 2 or 3, provided their predictions about the response to the change in predator abundance and made their recommendations about using the module in BIOL132. Students found the exercise straightforward and engaging, but some were not so sure about biogeochemical responses. Most students recommended that the module be used in BIOL132, a few felt that we already have enough natural resources ecology in that class (about ½ of our bio majors are in the preprofessional track and have yet to understand the value of ecology to preprofessional students – they do come to understand that human health/ecology connection later in their program).


My experience with the Faculty Mentoring Network during Spring 2018 Semester provided me with some new information for my teaching as well as re-confirmed some aspects of my approach to teaching.

Although I have 30+ years of teaching experience, I’m always looking for ways to enhance my teaching.


I teach a variety of classes. My ‘base load’ is: a 200-level Plant ID course (Fall semester), a 300-level General Ecology course (Fall and Summer), and a 200-level Biostats course (Fall and Spring). I include some quantitative work into the Ecology class and would like to include some quantitative work into the Plant ID class.  The information from the biweekly discussions with the other members of the network and the modules are valuable resources for me. (And I was happy to provide ideas to the other members of the network.)


The biweekly discussion provided specific tips and techniques such as using graphs as a gentle introduction to mathematical representations of biological phenomena and ways to gain students’ appreciation for the botanical side of biology. The discussions were also valuable just as group sessions to share perspectives and feel more connected to the profession.


The modules will help me bring quantitative exercises into my Ecology and Pland ID classes. I plan to use the trophic cascade module in an ecology lab and the cotyledon module in the Plant ID lab. I piloted the trophic cascade module in my Biostats lab this spring, using the approach of asking the students if they thought the module would be a useful addition in the first-year organismal biology class (they found the content straightforward, and thought it would be a good addition to the labs in that class).


Thanks for the opportunity to participate in this project. I will recommend that my younger colleagues take advantage of upcoming Faculty Mentoring Network projects.

Plants by the Numbers

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