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Visit an underwater forest near Point Lobos, California, to learn what a kelp forest food web looks like. From the smallest microbes to the largest animals, more than a thousand species take part in this diverse food web that draws its energy from the Sun.

Guiding Questions

  • How does a food web show the connections among living things? What do the connections in the web represent?
  • What is the ultimate source of energy for this food web?
  • What is the difference between a producer and a consumer? Name one example of each from the clip.

Sample Lesson that Directly Integrates This Video

Kelp forest fish Tom Thai

How Stable is Your Food Web? (grades 5-8)
Could you describe the kelp forest food web as a system? Your students will design and use a simple model to test cause and effect relationships or interactions concerning the functioning of a marine food web, ranking their hypothetical ecosystems according to their stability when faced with a natural or man-made disturbance.

Connections to Standards

Next Generation Science Standards Disciplinary Core Ideas

  • PS3.D: Energy in Chemical Processes and Everyday Life
    • (5) The energy released [from] food was once energy from the sun that was captured by plants in the chemical process that forms plant matter (from air and water).
    • (6-8) The chemical reaction by which plants produce complex food molecules (sugars) requires an energy input (i.e., from sunlight) to occur.
    • (9-12) The main way that solar energy is captured and stored on Earth is through the complex chemical process known as photosynthesis.
       
  • LS1.C: Organization for Matter and Energy Flow in Organisms
    • (5) Plants acquire their material for growth chiefly from air and water.
    • (6-8) Plants, algae (including phytoplankton), and many microorganisms use the energy from light to make sugars (food) from carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and water through the process of photosynthesis, which also releases oxygen.
       
  • LS2.A: Interdependent Relationships in Ecosystems
    • (5) The food of almost any kind of animal can be traced back to plants. Organisms are related in food webs in which some animals eat plants for food and other animals eat the animals that eat plants.
    • (5) A healthy ecosystem is one in which multiple species of different types are each able to meet their needs in a relatively stable web of life. Newly introduced species can damage the balance of an ecosystem.
    • (6-8) Organisms and populations of organisms are dependent on their environmental interactions both with other living things and with nonliving factors.
       
  • LS2.B: Cycles of Matter and Energy Transfer in Ecosystems
    • (5) Matter cycles between the air and soil and among plants, animals, and microbes as these organisms live and die.
    • (6-8) Food webs are models that demonstrate how matter and energy is transferred between producers, consumers, and decomposers as the three groups interact within an ecosystem.
    • (9-12) Photosynthesis and cellular respiration (including anaerobic processes) provide most of the energy for life processes.
       
  • ESS2.A: Earth Materials and Systems
    • ​(5) The ocean supports a variety of ecosystems and organisms, shapes landforms, and influences climate.

California's Environmental Principles and Concepts

  • Principle III: Natural systems proceed through cycles that humans depend upon, benefit from, and can alter.
    • Concept a: Students need to know that natural systems proceed through cycles and processes that are required for their functioning.

Vocabulary for Students

  • ecosystem: an ecological community together with its environment, functioning as a unit
  • food chain: demonstrates how matter and energy is transferred between producers, consumers, and decomposers in an ecosystem
  • food web: demonstrates the interdependent connections between all food chains in an ecosystem
  • kelp: large brown algae that grow in the shallow regions that extend over the continental shelf where light can penetrate the water
  • photosynthesis: the process in which organisms use water along with sunlight and carbon dioxide to make sugar

How Have Teachers Used This Video Clip?

To Teachers, From Teachers

"These videos are great because they provide such amazing visuals along with rich scientific information that will help support my students' understanding on a deeper level." -Elementary School Life and Physical Science Teacher from San Luis Obispo, CA

"I added the kelp forest ecosystem as an engagement activity for the kelp forest food web/energy in ecosystem/ecosystem stability lesson I was already doing." -High School Life Science Teacher from San Lorenzo, CA

"The videos are visually engaging, helping to illustrate ideas that are fairly abstract for intermediate grade levels: photosynthesis and transpiration for example, as well as the idea that ecosystems range from the vast spaces of a kelp forest to the tiny world of microbes at a tree's base in the soil." -Grades 1-6 Science Specialist from Fremont, CA

Have an idea you'd like us to post on this page? Email us.

Visualizations based on aggregated data provide the unique opportunity to engage your students in various Science Practices highlighted in the Next Generation Science Standards, including asking questions, analyzing and interpreting data, and constructing explanations. As an example, Academy educators developed sample activities such as this one and this one.

Related Activities

Buoyancy Bulls-Eye (grades 6-8)
What helps SCUBA divers, sharks, fish, and other marine organisms stay in the water column? In this hands-on investigation, students will explore the concepts of buoyancy and mass to create a device to help an action figure stay neutrally buoyant, just like a scuba diver.

Sensational Seaweed (grades 3-8)
Seaweed, a type of algae, is more than just a primary producer: they also convert carbon dioxide into oxygen and are the foundation for many habitats in the ocean. In this activity, students will learn the parts of algae, compare them to land plants, and rotate through exploration stations to investigate seaweed close up with their different senses.

Recommended Resources

Food Webs in Habitat Earth
It took a digital artist at the Academy a full year to create the gorgeous underwater shots of the kelp forest. This news articles describes how he did it!

Animating Life
How do you bring computer-generated creatures such as sea otters and birds to life? In this video, an animator and graphics designer for Habitat Earth takes us through the process of creating scientifically accurate animals.

Creating Kelp
The kelp forest scene in Habitat Earth only lasts for a few minutes, but it took an artist at the Academy a full year to create those gorgeous underwater shots. How did he do it?

Diving into Kelp Forests, 1906 San Francisco, and Asteroids
What does a production coordinator do? And why might it involve painstakingly drying and scanning pieces of recently plucked kelp?

Kelp Forest Cam
Monterey Bay Aquarium has a live camera feed from their kelp forest exhibit!

As Sea Stars Die, New Worries About Urchins
This National Geographic article tells the recent story of how a disease affecting sea stars starts a domino effect on organisms throughout the ecosystem.

Ecosystems: Kelp Forests
A nice, general description about this ecosystem from the National Marine Sanctuaries.

Academy Citizen Science Projects
See the types of organisms that Academy volunteers are finding off the California Coast, and track the spread of the sea star wasting disease.

Floating Forests
Your students can get involved in a citizen science project documenting how kelp forests grow and change over time, by merely categorizing photographs!

Sea Otter Numbers
This brief article tells how sea otter populations rebounded after almost going extinct over 150 years ago.

Data Sources

Animated Species Reference
San Francisco Bay Food Web Ecological Model of Paleocommunity Food Webs, G. Diel and K. Flessa, EDS. Conservation Paleobiology: The Paleontological Society Papers, 15: 195-220. Peter Roopnarine, Curator, Invertebrate Zoology & Geology, California Academy of Sciences.
Collections of the California Academy of Sciences
Moe Flannery, Collection Manager, Ornithology & Mammology
Christina Piotrowski, Collection Manager, Invertebrate Zoology & Geology
Debra Trock, Senior Collections Manager, Botany

Kelp Forest Surveys
The Steinhart Aquarium Staff
Bart Shepherd, Director
M. Elliot Jessup, Diving Safety Officer
Margarita Upton, Aquatic Biologist

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