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Biodiversity: Patterns and Processes

Graduate Fellow Sheila Walsh & Teacher Partner Frank Luera

San Diego bird biodiversity is used as a case study to teach students about biodiversity patterns and processes because San Diego is a biodiversity hotspot and threatened primarily by habitat loss. Students are introduced to the topic of biodiversity, shown patterns in bird biodiversity and environmental variables, and the concept of the niche is discussed. Students then develop hypotheses to 1) rank habitat types by their expected species richness, and 2) predict the habitat of an assigned bird species based on a simple description of its role in the ecosystem. Student teams gather data to test their hypotheses by emulating the sampling methods of San Diego Bird Atlas project in the classroom. Data is compiled, graphed, and analyzed in an excel spreadsheet. Students are prompted to discuss their data, implications of the data, methodological and conceptual issues.

Learning Objectives

1. To understand the concept of biodiversity and how it is affected by habitat change.

2. To understand how a species niche relates to its distribution or where you will find it in the landscape.

After completing this activity, students will be able to:

a) Define biodiversity.

b) Define a niche.

c) Explain why San Diego is a biodiversity hotspot.

d) Explain the difference between biodiversity and abundance.

e) Explain how patterns in environmental variables affect\ biodiversity or the presence of specific bird species.

f) Describe the niche of a single bird species in San Diego County.

g) Explain how habitat destruction may affect biodiversity.


1 hour


Teacher Guide

Biodiversity PowerPoint

Biodiversity PowerPoint (pdf)

Bird Biodiversity Data (xls)

Bird List (doc)

Student Handouts (doc)

Bird Descriptions (doc)