The incredible wealth of diversity on our planet is something to be celebrated with students of all ages! Any place is an ecosystem, and biodiversity studies can take place in a forest, stream, pond, or even cracks of the sidewalk.

School Woodland Biodiversity


This unit aims to increase students understanding of schoolyard tree biodiversity, and engage students in thinking about local forests as dynamic, exciting systems. The curriculum also encourages students to develop and test claims comparing different forest types.

  • Introductory Lesson – Creating a Woodland Study Plot
    • Students will know what trees live in their schoolyard and will be able to identify at least four trees. 
    • Students will know how to describe the forest community in their schoolyard and will be able to explain differences between two species in terms of one of the following: general health, location, density, carbon storage, or basal area.  
  • Dispersal- Lesson 1
    • Students will examine the shape and size of seeds, know how those differences relate to seed dispersal and be able to compare the trade-offs of those differences.
    • Students will know seeds are dispersed by wind and be able to explain the role of wind in dispersal.
  • Dispersal- Lesson 2
    • Students will know the spatial relationship of trees and seeds/seedlings of the same species in their woodland plot and be able to explain how the species came to be there.
  • Growth Strategies
    • Students will know the products and reactants of photosynthesis and be able to explain how the process of photosynthesis affects leaf structure.
    • Students will know where light is more and less available and be able to measure the differences in leaf area and stomata density between leaves in the sun and in the shade.  
  • Herbivory
    • Students will know what herbivory is and will be able to identify different forms of herbivory.
    • Students will know how plants defend themselves and will be able to identify different forms of plant defense mechanisms.  
  • Decomposition Lesson 1 – Leaf & Soil Collection
    • Students will be able to collect and analyze leaf litter data from different trees, and be able to make a prediction about why the amount of leaf litter differs between species.
  • Decomposition Lesson 2 – Creating & Measuring Leaf Packets
    • Students will be able to compare the decomposition rates (or amount of decomposition over a set period of time) between different species of trees.
  • Decomposition Lesson 3 – “Who Decomposed Our Leaves?”
    • Students will know that fungi and microbes are present on leaves and will be able to identify and quantify bacterial and fungal colonies.
  • Final Lesson - Conclusions and Discussions
    • Students will know that having different types of trees affects forest ecosystem function, and will be able to explain the impacts of changing species composition on function.  

Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies | Millbrook, New York 12545 | Tel (845) 677-5343

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