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What is an ecosystem?

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Science +1 Age Levels Elementary (9 to 12 years old), Middle School (13 to 15 years old)

In this collection students will compare and contrast ecosystems in order to define them.

It can be used as part of a larger study on ecosystems and interconnections.

This collection contains images and videos depicting the biotic and abiotic elements of a desert and rainforest ecosystem. The accompanying note catcher links to an article on ecosystems from National Geographic and a TedTalk about the body as an ecosystem.

Guiding Questions: Students will construct responses to the following guiding questions as they work with this collection: 

GQ 1:  What is an ecosystem?

GQ 2: What makes a healthy ecosystem?

Big Idea: As students work with this collection to answer the guiding questions, they will understand that an ecosystem is made up of the living and non-living elements of work together to create a bubble of life. Students will learn that all of the elements of an ecosystem are interconnected and that a healthy ecosystem is diverse and well-balanced.


Women Gathering Yucca Plants

Smithsonian American Art Museum

Huntington Gardens, California

Smithsonian American Art Museum

Desert Monuments, Arizona

Smithsonian American Art Museum

Desert Warthog

NMNH - Education & Outreach

Desert Box Turtle

NMNH - Education & Outreach

Desert Poppy (Eschscholtzia glyptosperma)

Smithsonian American Art Museum

Desert Mariposa (Calochortus kennedyi)

Smithsonian American Art Museum

Namib Desert

NMNH - Mineral Sciences Dept.

Sahara Desert

National Portrait Gallery

Desert tree or cactus

National Anthropological Archives

33c Desert Cottontail single

National Postal Museum

The Prettiest Lizard on Earth

Smithsonian Channel

Podocarpus milanjianus

NMNH - Botany Dept.

Cyphocharax gouldingi Vari

NMNH - Vertebrate Zoology - Fishes Division

Thomas Lovejoy in Brazil

Smithsonian Archives - History Div

Hymenophyllum capillare Desv.

NMNH - Botany Dept.