} CAS: Teachers - Threatened Biodiversity

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Connected Experience: Threatened Biodiversity


In this activity, students will understand that tropical rainforests of the world have immense biodiversity. Aftter collecting information about specimens at the museum, they will analyze issues threatening the biodiversity of tropical rainforests and propose solutions.


In this activity, students will:

  1. understand that tropical rainforests of the world have immense biodiversity.
  2. collect information about specimens and create a species database.
  3. analyze issues threatening the biodiversity of tropical rainforests and propose solutions.


  • transparency of “Tropical Rainforests of the World”
  • “Understanding the Threats” worksheets (one per student)
  • “Threatened Biodiversity” scavenger hunt (one per student)
  • access to computers (one per group)
  • digital camera or cell phones with photo capabilities (shared by group)
  • pens
  • articles


  • biodiversity: the number, variety, and genetic variation of different organisms found within a specified geographic region
  • conservation: the protection, preservation, management, or restoration of natural environments and the ecological communities that inhabit them
  • biodiversity hotspot: an area with a high diversity of endemic plants and animals that is also highly threatened
  • endemic: found only in a specific region or habitat


Before your Visit


  1. Make a transparency of the “Tropical Rainforests of the World”
  2. Copy “Understanding the Threats” to distribute to students.
  3. Copy “Threatened Biodiversity” scavenger hunts for students to complete at the California Academy of Sciences during a field trip.


  1. While showing the transparency of the “Tropical rainforests of the World”, discuss with the class the amazing biodiversity in these regions.
  2. Ask students why they think these regions are rich with biodiversity compared to other areas of the world.
  3. Inform students that they will be taking a field trip to the California Academy of Sciences and that their visit may include an exploration of the “Rainforests of the World” exhibit. In this exhibit visitors will immerse themselves in the heat and humidity of the tropical climate and learn about four diverse rainforest locations in the world: Borneo, Madagascar, Costa Rica, and the Amazon.
  4. Explain to the class that although these areas are rich with life, they are also threatened.
  5. List the threats on the board and discuss them. See list below:
    • habitat loss
    • climate change
    • hunting
    • pollution
    • illegal pet trade
  6. Separate students into groups of four and have each group work on completing the “Understanding Threats” worksheet.
  7. If computers are not accessible, print out example articles found in the resource section below.
  8. Allow students to share what information they have gathered with each other.

At the Academy


  1. Ask students to bring along digital cameras or cell phones.
  2. Hand out a “Threatened Biodiversity” scavenger hunt to each student.
  3. Ask students to take pictures of the three organisms they would like to further research back in the class.
  4. Ask students to also take a picture of labels for each of their organisms so they will have that information back in the class. Encourage students to avoid picking the same organisms as their classmates. Students should hypothesize what threats could be negatively affecting the organisms they focus on.
  5. NOTE: Not all the information requested on their worksheet will be listed on the labels at the Academy. They will need to complete their scavenger hunt at home or in class. Web resources that could be used to find additional information are available in the resource section of this lesson.
  6. Instruct students to print images of organisms after the field trip or use phone images to sketch each organism in the boxes provided.

Back at School


  1. Allow students class time to finish their research.
  2. Inform students that this information will be collected to form a species database for the California Academy of Sciences’ rainforest exhibit. For the database to be useful, the information must be accurate. The threats section in the database should be researched and verified.
  3. List the main threats on the board and ask students to list the organisms that they think are affected by them in each category.
  4. Go over the list as a class and discuss why these organisms are threatened in this way.
  5. Using the web resources at the end of this lesson, have students search for threats and conservation efforts facing these organisms. NOTE: Not all organisms might be threatened.
  6. Ask students to add two new sections to the species database—status and conservation efforts.
  7. After all the information is collected ask students to present their organisms to the class.
  8. Contact the education department (teacherservices@calacademy.org) at the California Academy of Sciences to have the species database posted on the Academy teacher’s webpage.


  • Brooks Thomas, Da Fonseca G.A.B., Gil Patricio R., Hoffmann Michael, Lamoreux John, Mittermeier Cristina G., Mittermeier Russell A., Pilgrim John. 2004. Hotspots Revisited. Cemex Books on Nature: Mexico City
  • Gil Patricio R., Kormos Cyril F., Martin Vance G., Mittermeier Cristina G., Sanderson Eric W. 2006. The Human Footprint: Challenges for Wilderness and Biodiversity. Cemex books on Nature: Mexico City

California Content Standards

High School

Biology/Life Sciences

  • 6a. Students know bio diversity is the sum total of different kinds of organisms and is affected by alterations of habitats.
  • 6b. Students know how to analyze changes in an ecosystem resulting from changes in climate, human activity, introduction of nonnative species, or changes in population size.

Earth Sciences

  • 5e. Students know rain forests and deserts on Earth are distributed in bands at specific latitudes.



Tropical rainforests are known for their biodiversity. These areas have abundant plant species and are teeming with animal life. Why are tropical regions so rich in biological organisms? Some scientists hypothesize that it is due to the excessive amount of rain and sunlight that are concentrated in the tropics allowing for lush plant growth which in turn supports many animal species. Another factor is the age of these environments. Some tropical rainforests have endured for millions of years. This has allowed time for many of organisms to evolve. Tropical species were not wiped out by the glacial periods as in many temperate regions so they have had more time to diversify.

Many of the rainforests of the world are classified as biodiversity hotspots. To qualify as a hotspot as defined by Conservation International, a region must meet two strict criteria: it must contain at least 1,500 species of endemic vascular plants (> 0.5 percent of the world’s total), and must have lost at least 70 percent of its original habitat. Hotspots include areas in Coast Rica (part of the Mesoamerica hotspot), Madagascar, and Borneo (part of the Sundaland hotspot). These biodiversity hotspots are species rich. And because they are threatened, they are in need of extensive conservation efforts to protect the remarkable organisms that live there.

The principle threats facing rainforests around the world include habitat loss, climate change, hunting, pollution, and the illegal pet trade. All of these destructive activities are human induced. There is a complex and unique balance that exists in rainforest ecosystems and human activities can disrupt this balance. For example, hunting can be done in a way that does not distroy the rainforest ecosystem if it is done on a small scale and does not persist in the same area over a long period of time, thus killing most or all of a particular type of animal. Tribal people living within the tropical rainforest have been hunting for food for thousands of years with minimal impact on the balance. However, many non-indigenous people have moved into and utilize rainforest habitat and exert hunting pressures on the rainforest that are not sustainable and throw the fragile ecosystem out of balance.

Climate change is affecting the climate and weather of different locations all over the world and causes changes in species distributions. One observable pattern is that many species’ ranges are moving up in elevations on mountainsides because they can no longer live in the lower elevations due to the increased temperatures. It is not certain how climate change will affect tropical rainforests overall, but climate change effects coupled with habitat destruction will likely worsen an already dire situation. Burning rainforest trees creates two problems- the burning releases more CO², a gas that contributes to global warming, and the burned trees are no longer available to take in CO² and release O². Changes in tropical rainforests are altering the atmosphere, perhaps even affecting the hydrologic cycle.

Habitat loss is the greatest threat facing most tropical rainforests. This is occurring due to the large scale development of natural areas to meet human’s need for logging, agriculture, building roads or towns, mining, and making grazing lands for cattle. Loss of habitat is a serious threat that wreaks havoc on the fragile natural systems that support such an abundance of life. On the island of Borneo, for example, in the past 20 years, 80 percent of the island’s rainforests have been lost to illegal logging, new plantations, gold mining and fires. These types of resource extraction also release pollution into the environment which can affect surrounding areas that still have intact rainforest habitat.

The illegal pet trade has been an increasing problem for tropical rainforest species. The wildlife trade is regulated by agreements under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), a 172-member international organization of which the United States is a member. Virtually every wild animal that enters the U.S. must be accompanied by a correct CITES permit and supporting paperwork from the exporting nation. Unfortunately, many people break these rules. A great number of animals are smuggled into the United States every year and sold for large sums of money. Many species of monkeys, snakes, frogs, and birds are threatened by this black market.

Unfortunately, the loss of rainforests means the loss of species. Many of the species that are going extinct right now have never even been studied and described by scientists. Knowledge of species is an extremely important part of scientific understanding of the natural world as well as developing new products such as medicine that can be of great benefit to humans. Because rainforests are so diverse and so threatened, we need to rapidly collect more information about rainforest organisms in order to know what life forms exist before they are lost. At the same time we must make great conservation efforts to preserve these lands and protect ecosystems that are crucially important to the survival of rainforest species and to our own survival.


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