You may have heard how tropical rainforests support over 50% of the planet’s biodiversity (the variety of life that lives in a particular place). When one considers the threats to rainforest creatures worldwide, loss of habitat is often at the top of the list. The majority of this habitat is lost due to an expanding human population. When houses are built, roads are constructed, or land is converted to agriculture, local wildlife inevitably loses a home. Or not?
Photo credit: deepsan
Jai Ranganathan and his colleagues down at Stanford University published an article
this month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
describing a survey of bird diversity in areca palm plantations in south-west India. The betel nut and leaves of the areca palm are used throughout Asia in medicine, and commonly chewed to enjoy a coffee-like stimulant. The betel nut grows in the canopy of tall, lush trees, so cultivating this crop provides habitat for large forest birds, such as the great hornbill (Buceros bicornis
). When surveying the plantation’s species richness
(the number of different species in a given area), scientists discovered that as much as 90% of the birds living in the native forest also found suitable habitat on the farm.
| Tall areca palms (above) grow betel nuts, which provide food for hungry great hornbills (below). Better yet, farmers have room to plant diverse crops below the canopy. These shorter plants, in turn, host an increased variety of bird life.
Photo credit: Lip Kee
Two factors contribute to the success of areca nut plantations:
- Because the palms are so tall, they can plant shorter species in the space below. Economically valuable crops such as vanilla, pepper, bananas, and coconuts grow at varying heights, from the floor up to the understory. Because of this structural complexity in forest layers, many more bird species can find a suitable habitat (food, water, and shelter!).
- Rather than using chemical fertilizers (both expensive and harmful to the environment), farmers care for their crops the natural way. They collect spare leaf litter from nearby forests, and blanket the ground with a coating of nutritious mulch.
The authors argue that the areca nut plantations — cultivated for 2,000 years by local farmers — may serve as a model for conservation efforts in similar habitats.
Some questions for class discussion:
- How does an areca nut plantation support rainforest wildlife?
- How does an areca nut plantation support the farmers in India?
- Which do you find more important: the ecological value of a rainforest habitat or the economic benefits gained by local human communities?
- Where else do you think farmers should copy this method of agriculture?
- Picture your perfect farm — one that provides your family with plenty of produce, yet also leaves room for wild plants and animals. Create an illustration individually, in groups, or as a class, and explain the reasoning behind your plantation’s plan.
Calling all teachers of preschool and kindergarten! While your precious students tend to be a bit young for many of the Academy exhibits and programs, I’d love to highlight one of our amazing teacher resources for students aged 4 to 6. Drum roll please…
Introducing our Junior Kits
! These rentable suitcases are full of fun: crafty activities, adorable puppets, touchable specimens, and worksheets ready to copy for your kids. Borrow a Junior Kit for 3 weeks
of fun in your classroom.
Each kit has as least one activity that will get your kids involved in:
- Arts & Crafts
- Circle Time
- Outside Time
|A plushie red-tailed hawk, a dozen pairs of binoculars, and samples of bird-related specimens are just some of the goodies found in our Busy Birds Jr Kit.
Detailed material lists for each kit are now posted online! Here are the 7 varieties, to whet your appetite:
- Creepers & Crawlers I Jr.
Features the ant, grasshopper, praying mantis, bee, ladybug, worm, and coach-horse beetle.
- Creepers & Crawlers II Jr.
Features the cockroach, monarch butterfly, pincer bug, snail, Jerusalem cricket, and roly-poly.
- Busy Birds I Jr.
Features the crow, robin, gull, finch, dove, and hummingbird.
- Busy Birds II Jr.
Features the pigeon, starling, hawk, jay, sparrow, and blackbird.
- Tide Pools Treasures Jr.
Features the barnacle, limpet, mussel, sea cradle, sea star, crab, hermit crab, anemone, sea urchin, snail, and seaweed.
- Dinosaur Days I Jr.
Features the Tyrannosaurus rex, Ankylosaurus, Maiasaura, Ornithomimus, Styracosaurus, and Parasaurolophus.
- Dinosaur Days II Jr.
Features the Triceratops, Euoplocephalus, Lambeosaurus, Troodon, Edmontonia, and Pachycephalosaurus.
And unlike our kits for older students, teachers need not attend a workshop to learn how to use the materials. So call Sarah at 415.379.5816 to arrange for a pick-up!
Participants in last Saturday’s Organic, Local, and Delicious teachers’ workshop were in for a treat — a culinary one, that is! To set the stage for learning how local and organic farming can benefit both the consumer and the environment, the workshop began with a field trip to the Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market. Teachers were instructed to purchase a bag of produce representing all of the classic plant parts, including roots, shoots, leaves, and fruit. The fresh produce was used back at the Academy for an activity illustrating the function of plant parts, and provided ingredients for a healthy lunch!
Another popular activity involved crafting and illustrating a paper-based topographical landscape, with rolling hills, urban areas, and stretches of farm laced with a bit of “pesticide.” With the spritz of a spray bottle, teachers were introduced to a telling demonstration of how a winter rainstorm can spread poisonous chemicals far from their original source.
I snuck a peak at our post-workshop evaluations: one teacher described the workshop as “Well done, practical and enjoyable” while another reflected that “It was awesome! I loved it!” I’m glad to hear that the participants — by coincidence all pre-service teachers — found the activities applicable to the classroom.
(For curious readers: this workshop is offered again on Saturday, March 7th, 2009. Call 1.800.794.7576 to register.)
One take-home tip: Be skeptical of labeling. Words like “natural” and “organic” can be used quite freely in marketing. But truly organic products are certified by third-party groups with recognizable labels, such as the CCOF sunflower and the green seal of the USDA.
My name is Megan Schufreider, and I work here in the Academy Education Division, developing curricula for teachers and delivering science classes to students. With degrees in Biology and Museum Studies and experience working as both a classroom teacher and a museum educator, I am delighted to moderate this blog for our community of science teachers.
The Teachers’ Lounge blog serves as a direct line of communication between you and our Education Division -– and an opportunity to share ideas and enthusiasm with your colleagues. Each week, Education staff will post entries aimed to keep you up-to-date with science-related news. Science is an ever-changing discipline, and we hope to shed some light on recent discoveries to make the content accessible to your students.
In addition, we’ll recommend resources for teaching science and report on professional development events. So be sure to add this page to your Favorites.
Some thematic areas for future posts include:
I welcome you to participate. Join the conversation, and keep in touch!
- Science in the News
- Understanding Sustainability
- Schoolyard Science
- Behind Academy Research
- Keeping a Science Journal
- ….and more!