Biodiversity is the general term used to describe the variety in the living world. It reflects on both the variety and complexity of life. Biodiversity can be considered at different levels and can be applied to a small local habitat or to the Earth itself.
It is possible to measure biodiversity by use of an index of diversity, also called species diversity. This is a calculation which refers to the number of different species and the number of individuals of each species within any one community.
Two communities may have the same number of species but the proportions of the community made up of each species may differ. This may be due to external factors such as impact of agriculture, impact of deforestation or overfishing.
Because biodiversity reflects how well an ecosystem functions, maintaining biodiversity is important. The higher the species diversity index the more stable an ecosystem usually is. Actions to maintain biodiversity can be seen at local, national and global levels.
Biodiversity is often a topic used in A level biology to introduce ecology, providing ample opportunities to undertake practical investigations, compile results which can be analysed using species diversity index and subsequently interpreted to compare particular habitats. Often in A level biology exams, questions ask students to compare habitats and comment on how each habitat may be affected by climate change, or the impact on the habitats from farming, deforestation etc.
Whilst this list provides a source of information and ideas for experimental work, it is important to note that recommendations can date very quickly. Do NOT follow suggestions which conflict with current advice from CLEAPSS, SSERC or other recent safety guides. eLibrary users are responsible for ensuring that any activity, including practical work, which they carry out is consistent with current regulations related to Health and Safety and that they carry an appropriate risk assessment. Further information is provided in our Health and Safety guidance.
Links and Resources
This is a very easy to watch video about San Diego zoo. It is quite a long video (thirteen minutes) and would take up too much time as a class activity at A level. It would however provide for a useful pre-topic introductory homework. Students could be asked to watch the video and then prepare a short summary of the actions that are being undertaken by San Diego zoo to maintain biodiversity at various levels - local, national and global. Students could also be asked to comment on why it is important to maintain biodiversity and some of the reasons given in the video for a loss of biodiversity.
This is a very detailed resource, which would provide sufficient challenge for A level biologists.
In the resource students are asked to investigate the effects of increasing numbers of Greylag Geese and whether this increase is worrying for the diversity of other water bird species. Students explore what the concept biodiversity means, how it can be described mathematically and what are its advantages and limitations?
The word document labelled Biodiversity information sheet, contains worksheets (with data) for students to use. The document labelled Invasion of the Greylag Geese-activity sheet, is in fact a detailed teacher guidance, which explains the learning outcomes and requirements of the student worksheets.
There is also an excel spreadsheet that can be used to calculate Simpson's diversity index as well as other diversity indices (which it is not worth confusing students with!).
It is important for teachers to check A level specifications as to which Simpson's index is being used for their course. The name 'Simpson's Diversity Index' is often very loosely applied and all three related indices (Simpson's Index, Simpson's Index of Diversity and Simpson's Reciprocal Index) have been quoted under this blanket term, depending on author. It is therefore important to ascertain which index has actually been used in any comparative studies of diversity.
This colourful leaflet from the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) looks at what biodiversity is and why it matters. It also explains how human activities threaten the natural environment, endangering species and habitats and what we are doing about the problem.
The leaflet would work best projected and magnified onto an interactive whiteboard or put on hand held devices as it is quite difficult to read in paper copy. Pairs of students could be asked to read particular sections, for example, pair one-what is Biodiversity? Pair two-why does Biodiversity matter? Pair three-what is a species? Bees on brink and nutrient pollution etc. Each pair has five minutes to read their allocated section and then they must present a one minute summary of their section (without any reference to the original leaflet or written material)
The resource also includes a list of research centres funded by NERC and other agencies and programmes investigating biodiversity. Students could be set research related activities to find three of these websites and provide a summary of findings.
This resource is a set of four posters, the one on biodiversity being the most applicable here. This poster could be used in a similar way to the NERC leaflet also included in this list. Pairs or small groups of students could be asked to read particular sections (there are five clear sections on the poster), and then be asked to provide a one minute summary without reference to the original poster or to any written material.
This poster is very easy to read and does print well as an A4 sheet. It would also work as a revision sheet or could be used as a guide in answering an exam question, to provide students with a good model answer that they can then use to revise from.
This is an off the shelf resource that could be used successfully with A level biologists. It provides a case study approach to studying biodiversity. It would work well as an in-class activity once the initial concepts of biodiversity have be covered. The activities require some individual work and some group work. There are presentations that teachers can use to provide background to the case study and illustration of species. There are also some detailed teacher notes.
It would also be possible for teachers to add some additional data to this case study to allow for the calculation species diversity.
This activity fits into the topic of human impact on ecosystems in terms of considering effective conservation methods
This is a good introductory article to the topic of biodiversity and could be used as a pre-start of topic reading material for students. They could be asked to read this article for homework and prepare a four slide (only) summary of what the article was about.
The article could also be used as stimulus material for a debate on the need to balance human need for resources against conservation.
Students could research further some of the case studies presented in this article or be asked to write their own short case study on a conservation project they have researched, using the case studies in this article as a template.
This resource describes a series of investigations to measure the distribution of plants and animals, including a range of sampling techniques and the measurement of abiotic factors such as soil conditions, temperature and light intensity. These activities are generally suitable for surveying in the school grounds but they can also be applied to other locations.
There are two protocols provided-one for Key Stage Five and one for Key Stage Four. These are provided as 'for teachers'. The relevant sections for students just need to be cut and pasted to the particular investigation that is being undertaken.
The protocols do provide clear, easy to follow instructions for the various sampling techniques and investigations into abiotic factors. A level students should be familiar with these techniques and should be able to use these protocols to compare biodiversity of two areas, using collected results to calculate species diversity index.
This is a modelling activity on calculating species diversity. The activity demonstrates the principles of random sampling and how to estimate biodiversity. Students use different coloured sugar balls to represent different species in order to calculate Simpson's diversity index and assess its effectiveness.
This would be a useful introductory activity to both sampling techniques and calculation of species diversity, before students took on actual investigations in the field.
This is a very interesting and detailed resource, which provides an opportunity for an alternative range of ecological studies for A level students.
The presentation and teacher notes provide all the information needed to set up these ecological investigations focused on bumble bees.
There are a number of further resource links provided so that students could undertake further research. Once completed the results from investigations would provide the basis for A level students to complete a detailed report linked to biodiversity and impact of human activity on the environment.
This PowerPoint presentation, aimed at teachers but easily adapted for students, gives a range of possible ideas for ecological investigations on heathland. Students could be shown the possible investigation titles (slides four and five). Then working in pairs, they could be asked to come up with a protocol for carrying out a particular investigation. This would include a step by step procedure, an equipment list, risk assessment and any important notes/considerations. Pairs could then swap protocols and be taken to an appropriate location to undertake a particular investigation.
Students would be able to come up with results and conclusions, but would also be able to comment on the clarity/suitability/reliability/accuracy of the protocol they were provided with by their peers.
This is an extensive resource pack linked to a specific field study trip to investigate the distribution of heather on a heathland. To use the pack as it is teachers would need to identify a suitable location - for many this will be possible, but not for all.
It would be possible however to still make use of this resource as the material provides an excellent template for any field study, so if the investigation was changed to seaweed distribution on the beach , the relevant material could be inserted into the presentations and workbooks provided in this resource.