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How Does Water Chestnut Impact the Hudson River?

Unit Plan: Invasive SpeciesTime: Two class periods or one lab period Setting: Classroom
9-12Hudson River Ecology
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Students will understand how the invasive water chestnut plant impacts the Hudson River differently from the native water celery plant and be able to explain these impacts based on a series of graphs.


    1. Students discuss what they already know about water chestnut and brainstorm ways the water chestnut invasion may have impacted the Hudson River
    2. Students complete a graph interpretation activity
    3. Students report and discuss results


    • Enough copies of the worksheet “Student graph interpretation worksheet” (below)
    • “Activity demonstration ppt” PowerPoint
    • Photos and/or examples of water chestnut (photos below)
    • Colored pencils

    Engage: Show students pictures of water chestnut and the native water celery plant. Ask: What do you know about the water chestnut invasion? View aerial photos of the water chestnut beds. Ask what they think happened to the native water celery population, and the impacts of the changes on different factors such as dissolved oxygen, fish populations, etc. Record their hypotheses on the board.

    Explore: Hand out the “How does water chestnut impact the Hudson River?” worksheet. The beginning asks the students to draw a few things on the graph to make it easier to understand. You may want to guide them through this process using the PowerPoint associated with this activity.

    Explanation: Water chestnut is an annual plant that consists of floating leaves that are attached to the sediment by a long, tough stem. The plant produces an edible nut that is hard and spiny on the outside, and can remain viable for a decade or more. Water chestnut was introduced to North America in the late 19th century by a well-meaning botanist who thought the plant was beautiful and useful as potential wildlife food. The chestnut quickly escaped the lakes where it was introduced, becoming a nuisance in the Hudson in the 1950s. It prefers slow-moving water up to 5m deep, and once established it forms dense, impenetrable stands of roots that even a kayak can’t get through.

    There are a few problems with the water chestnut. First, because of the thick beds that it forms, it’s an obstacle for boaters and people who want to use the river recreationally. It has displaced native aquatic plants, changing the underwater habitat for fish. It can also induce severe dissolved oxygen depletion beneath the plants. Because the plant’s leaves cover the water surface instead of being equally distributed throughout the water column, much of the oxygen produced by the plant is released to the air instead of being dissolved into the water. The plant also effectively crowds the water’s surface and blocks sunlight to phytoplankton or plants beneath it, such as water celery, that would otherwise also produce oxygen. The water can become anoxic (oxygen-free) during low tide, with the oxygen being replenished only when the tides change. The native water celery however, has leaves distributed throughout the water column and distributes its oxygen directly to the water column. For this reason, oxygen production is influenced far more by diurnal cycles than tides.

    There may also be some positive aspects related to the water chestnut, although many of these are still being investigated. It may provide a good habitat for some invertebrates, increase fish diversity, and effectively remove nutrients from the water. There have been attempts to eradicate the plant, but it is now more abundant than it has ever been. 

    Extend: Students can view the animation to understand how a location with water celery is different from one with water chestnut.  They can also read the Fact Sheets provided with this lesson to gain more background information.  

    Evaluate: Students will complete the graph interpretation exercise and answer the questions on the worksheet.  Make sure students are able to answer the question of how the native water celery plant differs in its oxygen regime from the invasive water chestnut plant.  



    Lesson Files

    Student Worksheet
    Water chestnut fact sheet
    Water celery fact sheet
    Water Chestnut Photos, Hudson River
    Macrophyte Impacts on DO

    Benchmarks for Science Literacy

    1A Scientific World View, 1B Scientific Inquiry, 1C The scientific enterprise, 2A Patterns and Relationships, 2B Mathematics, Science and Technology, 4G Forces of Nature, 5D Interdependence of Life, 11A Systems, 11C Constancy and Change, 12D Communication Skills

    NYS Standards

    MST 1 - Mathematical analysis, scientific inquiry, and engineering design, MST 3- Mathematics in real-world settings, MST 4- Physical setting, living environment and nature of science, MST 6- Interconnectedness of mathematics, science, and technology (modeling, systems, scale, change, equilibrium, optimization), MST 7- Problem solving using mathematics, science, and technology (working effectively, process and analyze information, presenting results), ELA 1- Language to collect and interpret information and understand generalizations, ELA 4 - Language for communication and social interaction with a wide variety of people
    Next Generation Science Standards

    Science and Engineering Practices

    Asking questions and defining problems

    Cross Cutting Concepts

    Stability and change

    Disciplinary Core Ideas

    LS2A: Interdependent Relationships in Ecosystems
    New York State Science Learning Standards

    Performance Expectations

    HS-LS2-1. Use mathematical and/or computational representations to support explanations of biotic and abiotic factors that affect carrying capacity of ecosystems at different scales., HS-LS2-2. Use mathematical representations to support and revise explanations based on evidence about factors affecting biodiversity and populations in ecosystems of different scales.