Alien Plant Invasion: A Field Study Project at Saguaro National Park
by Maryann Carpenter
This unit of lessons is designed to bring scientific process skills and current research into the high school classroom. The unit revolves around the question: how extensive is the alien plant invasion in the King's Canyon Wash area? Kings Canyon Wash is located in the Saguaro National Park. The students contribute to the Park's management efforts by identifying invasive plant species, determining the range and abundance of the invasive plants, studying their impact on the local ecosystem, and participating in management techniques (such as removal or monitor distribution). The students identify common native plants and invasive species, conduct a field study at the Park, and collect and analyze their data. By collecting data over long periods of time, they can begin to see the effects management decisions and invasive plant species have on the local ecology. The students are also encourage to propose other research projects.
My purpose for designing this class project is threefold: first, to help students connect science knowledge and "doing" science; second, to involve students in research, and third, to help students contribute to their community. In the past, many of my students have learned about science by reading, listening, and doing labs that demonstrate an already known concept. I would like them to be involved in real science--looking at a problem and solving it through the scientific method. By involving them in current research they will see how scientists work and how each of their contributions helps a bigger puzzle be placed together. What they learn about the local ecology will benefit both the National Park Service and other students. Finally, I want the students to feel they have made a difference or done something that is valuable for the community.
The vehicle I am using to accomplish these three goals is a field study project at Saguaro National Park West in Tucson, Arizona. The park monitors the organisms that live there in order allow the natural ecosystems to be preserved for the future. The park rangers are constantly surveying and studying the populations to identify management techniques that need to be used to fulfill this purpose. The students would be assisting in this effort while they learn and contribute to their community. They would be learning and using the scientific method, and gaining knowledge about plants, the desert, and population interactions (ecology) through a dynamic, hands-on, authentic approach.
The student will be able to:
I would like for this project to be a continuing research experience for my classes. Once the students have quantified the problem in King's Canyon, they will be able to apply some mechanical control in part of the plots, and allow other plots to continue untouched. A few months later they can measure and see how effective the control was. Next year's class can assess how effective the previous class was and continue to monitor the area. Ten years from now we might know how best to control alien plant species in King's Canyon!!
The University of Arizona
Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics
General Biology Program for Secondary Teachers