} CAS: Teachers - Antelope Across Africa

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Connected Experience: Antelope Across Africa

Abstract

During a field trip to the California Academy of Sciences’ Tusher African Hall students create a “field guide” for specific antelope. Back in the classroom the students match their antelope to biomes that their antelope is specially adapted to.

Objectives

  1. Students learn how similar animals are specially adapted to different environments
  2. Students learn ways the living and non-living environments interact.

Materials

  • Antelope Field Guide sheets
  • Antelope Cards (one set per group)
  • Africa’s Seven Biomes sheets (one per group)
  • Transparency of Africa’s Seven Biomes
  • Antelope Data Sheet (one per group)
  • Overhead projector
  • Scratch paper
  • Graphite pencils (one per student)
  • Colored pencils (one set per group)

Vocabulary

  • antelope: large, hoofed animals with two toes and horns directed upward and backward, inhabiting Africa, Asia, Europe and North America. Includes gazelles, springboks, impalas, addax, gerenuks, blackbucks, dik-diks, among others. As even-toed ungulates, antelope are related to cattle, sheep, buffalo, bison, and goats.
  • biome: a region with a certain climate and certain forms of vegetation
  • population: all members of one species in a particular area
  • savanna: a flat grassland of tropical or subtropical regions, having distinct wet and dry seasons whose relative length determines the type of vegetation present, which normally consists of a grassy plain with widely spaced trees and bushes
  • montane: the lower vegetation belt on mountains
  • tropical: of, occurring in, or characteristic of the Tropics (hot and humid)
  • temperate: marked by moderate temperatures, weather, or climate
  • ungulate: a mammal with hooves

Activity

Preparation

  1. Print out Africa’s Seven Biomes map for each group.
  2. Make a transparency of the map in color.
  3. Print out antelope data sheets and antelope cards
  4. Cut out antelope cards (some cards may need to be printed twice if more than one student studies a given antelope)

Procedure

  1. In African Hall, pass out Antelope Field Guide sheets to students and assign an exhibited antelope to each student.
  2. Assist students in creating a descriptive account of their antelope including an illustration of it, a written description of it, a range map shaded with graphite pencil, and any additional notes. Tell your students they will cite their antelope’s biome(s) back in the classroom.
  3. After returning to your classroom with completed field guide sheets, distribute cut-out antelope cards to each student. These will serve to remind students what their antelope looks like and the extent of their range in Africa.
  4. Introduce the idea of a biome (one biome may contain many related habitats, and are not correlated with an animals range). Show overhead of Africa’s Seven Biomes and describe each (see Teacher Background).
  5. Ask students which Biome (or Biomes) their antelope lives in and why they think this.
  6. Instruct students to add to their range map on antelope field guide sheets an additional shading for the biome(s) their antelope lives within. They should color these areas with different colored pencils and will color over the graphite-shaded range. Note that they should color lightly over the antelope range so it is still visible beneath the colored pencil.
  7. Next, distribute antelope data sheets (students may share). Ask students to check that their predicted biome(s) was/were correct and allow students to add any additional information to their field guide sheets, based upon the information in the data sheets. Provide more paper if necessary.

Wrap Up

Have each student briefly report to the rest of the class what they learned about their antelope, such as where it lives in Africa and why they think it is suited to live in its biome(s).  After reports, discuss with class the following questions:

  • What do most antelope eat? How does this relate to the habitat where they are found?  How does this relate to their role in the ecosystem?
  • What are the main predators of African antelope?  What purpose does an antelope serve for these creatures?
  • Why are antelope found in so many biomes around Africa? Do you notice any differences among the animals, even though they are all in the same family? (they have adapted to survive each climate and some of the vegetation provides a source of food)
  • What purpose do they serve in the ecosystem? (antelope play a major role in the food chain, they are eaten by the top predators and they feed mainly on grasses, leaves, fruits, and tubers)
  • Where do you find the most antelope species in Africa? (savanna) Why are their so many there? (antelope thrive in areas with an abundance of food and savannas are mostly comprised of grasses, bushes, and small trees I’m not sure if this is intuitive, because forests and marshes have lots of plants…)
  • What is a biome? (a biome is a region with a similar climate and vegetation throughout)
  • Compare two biomes and discuss how they are different. (desert has less than 20 cm a year of rain and small plants, the tropical moist forest have over 200 cm of rain each year and are composed of large broadleaf trees)

Extensions

A fun extension to this activity is to have your students make an “Adaptation Admiration” report for the antelope of their choice.  The students will illustrate certain characteristics of the antelope and write a few sentences about how this animal is adapted for that particular biome.

References

California Content Standards

Grade Three

Life Sciences

  • 3a. Students know plants and animals have structures that serve different functions in growth, survival, and reproduction. 
  • 3b. Students know examples of diverse life forms in different environments, such as oceans, deserts, tundra, forests, grasslands, and wetlands.

Grade Four

Life Sciences

  • 2a. Students know plants are the primary source of matter and energy entering most food chains.
  • 2b. Students know producers and consumers (herbivores, carnivores, omnivores, and decomposers) are related in food chains and food webs and may compete with each other for resources in an ecosystem.
  • 3a. Students know ecosystems can be characterized by their living and nonliving components.
  • 3b. Students know that in any particular environment, some kinds of plants and animals survive well, some survive less well, and some cannot survive at all.

 

Background

Africa is home to 72 out of 84 antelope species alive today. Antelopes are critical for these biomes because they are a major part of the food chain.  They eat the vegetation available and are hunted by the top predators.  Each species is adapted to live successfully in its environment. Antelope belong to the bovid family, which also includes buffalo, cattle, sheep, and goats. All antelope are herbivores (plant eaters), even-toed ungulates (hoofed animals), and ruminants (animals with four-chambered stomachs that chew a cud – in other words regurgitated food that is re-chewed as part of the digestive process). 

You will note that many antelope’s ranges are not restricted to one specific biome. These animals are adapted to live in multiple biomes.

In this activity, students explore Africa’s biomes using range maps of different antelope species to see where they live.  After this discovery, the students hypothesize why there are so many different species of antelope in Africa.

Africa can be divided into seven major biomes: (1) desert (2) semi-desert; (3) steppe; (4) savanna; (5) tropical rainforest; (6) montane; and (7) Mediterranean (see Map of Africa’s Biomes).  

The deserts of Africa stretch for 2,000 km (1,200 miles) along the southwest coast of Africa. The Namib is the world’s oldest desert and has existed for at least 80 million years. Temperatures there can rise over 49ºC (120ºF) and annual rainfall is less than 20 cm (8 inches) per year. This barren landscape of huge shifting sand dunes, gravelly plains and rugged mountains provides homes for hardy plants and animals adapted to survive the inhospitable conditions of the desert, such as the dik dik and the Hunter’s hartebeest.

The semi-desert biome lies between the desert biome and the steppe biomes. This transitional environment receives more rainfall than the desert, but less than the dry and moist savannas. The animals and plants living here have adapted to this in-between climate. Resembling the scrub environments of our Southwestern states like New Mexico and Arizona, prey animals living here are typically smaller in order to hide behind the short vegetation and are excellent at conserving water.

Like savannas, steppes are areas of open grassland with very few trees. Steppes, however are located in colder climate regions and receive less precipitation on average than savannas. Temperatures in temperate grasslands vary according to the season. In winter, temperatures can plummet to well below 0ºF in some areas. In summer, temperatures can reach above 90º. These temperate grasslands receive low to moderate precipitation per year (20-35 inches on average). Much of this precipitation may be in the form of snow. As in the savanna, seasonal drought and occasional fires are very important to biodiversity. However, their effects aren't as dramatic in temperate grasslands as they are in savannas. The soil of the steppe is deep and dark, with fertile upper layers. It is nutrient-rich from the growth and decay of deep, many-branched grass roots. The rotted roots hold the soil together and provide a food source for living plants. Each different species of grass grows best in a particular grassland environment (determined by temperature, rainfall, and soil conditions). The seasonal drought, occasional fires, and grazing by large mammals all prevent woody shrubs and trees from invading and becoming established.

Savannas cover much of central Africa and host more antelope species than any other biome. A savanna is a tropical or subtropical grassland containing scattered trees and drought-resistant undergrowth. The difference between dry and moist savannas lies in the average yearly rainfall. On average, the African Savanna receives about the same rainfall as that of Wisconsin. During the rainy season, beginning in May and ending in November, rainfall averages 15-25 inches per month. The dry season averages four inches of rain per month. The African savanna is so huge that it may be further divided into sub-biomes, such as the dry savanna, the moist savanna, the coastal savanna, and the acacia savanna.

The African dry savanna is a thorn bush and grass savanna that hosts many plant species, including various acacia species, candelabra trees, jackalberry trees, whistling thorn bushes, baobab trees, Bermuda grass, baobabs, and elephant grass. Much of the dry savanna, such as the Serengeti Plains, has very dry but nutrient-rich volcanic sand. Around 2 million large plant-eating mammals live in this biome. There are 45 species of mammals, almost 500 species of birds, and 55 species of acacia in the Serengeti Plains. There are animals such as lions, African wildcats, klipspringer, steenbok, Burchell's zebra, African savanna monitor, and puff adders. They have the largest diversity of hoofed animals in the world including antelopes, wildebeest, buffalos, zebras, and rhinoceros. Some animals are grazers, some are browsers, and some do a little of both. One herd of browsers nibbles at the trunk of a tree, another looks a little higher for food, a third eats even higher than the ones below them, and another herd browses at the very top.

This biome has been helped, hurt, and changed by humans in many ways. For example people use the land for cattle grazing (which kills the grass and turns the savanna into a desert), they cause many fires that destroy the land, use of wood for fuel also causes problems to the environment, and people also poach (hunt the animals illegally) which causes animals to become extinct. 

Within moist savannas we find extensive flooded grasslands and wetlands that provide unique habitats for many African species. Black lechwe feed in marshy areas and will follow the river’s course in search of good feeding spots where vegetation is abundant. They are comfortable wading into water up to their shoulders and if threatened seek safety in deep water. Not far from this spot is the source of one of the world’s longest rivers, the mighty Congo, which traverses central Africa for nearly 6,400 km (4,000 miles).

The tropical rainforests of Africa are located around the equatorial region of the continent.  These lush areas have high elevated slopes where misty cloud forests are found.  Tropical forests have many species of broadleaf trees and a climate that can be wet or dry. Thick montane forests on East Africa’s high mountains provide protective cover for animals such as the shy and elusive bongo. These mountains rise in sharp contrast to the low elevation grasslands that surround them and the slopes are dominated by dense stands of bamboo. Like the bongo, many of the plants and animals here live nowhere else in the world.

The montane biome includes mountainous grasslands and shrublands primarily dispersed throughout the southern part of the continent. This biome supports some of the largest and most charismatic animals in Africa. Much of the wildlife in this area is protected in national parks and private reserves. Rainy summers produce abundant vegetation in montane woodlands, providing an important food source for animals such as roan and sable antelope.

The mediterranean biome is characterized by a climate with cool, wet winters and hot, dry summers. The Cape Floristic Province hugging the coastline of Southern Africa is located within Africa’s mediterranean biome, and is famous for hosting over 9,000 different kinds of plants, more that any other place in the world outside of the tropics. The landscape is dominated by fynbos (shrublands comprised of evergreen fire-dependent plants that thrive on rocky or sandy nutrient-poor soils) where one can spot steinbok feeding on grass, tubers, and leaves.  Both the Cape Floristic Province and much of California are biodiversity hotspots and are among the world’s most threatened habitats, as over 70% of the original habitat has already been lost to agriculture and development. 

 

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