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Writing Center

Can limiting factors be a good thing? Your task is to find a way to turn what seems like a bad situation for each of the following organisms into a good one. Heres a hint: think about how it could make the entire population stronger, not necessarily the individual organism. (Its all evolution!)


Longleaf Pines
Baby Longleaf Pine

Adult Longleaf Pines with Flashfire

Longleaf Pines have developed in an interesting way. Its important to understand the Long-Leaf Pine ecosystem when discussing its limiting factors. Pigweed is a species of plant that takes over farmland. It survives well in our North Florida environment. Pigweeds main limiting factor is not natural, but man-made. Herbicides, or plant poisons, are developed to kill Pigweed. If youve ever heard of Round-Up, thats what were talking about. Farmers are having problems with Pigweed, though. Some pigweed still dies from herbicides, but some Pigweed seeds are growing into plants that are immune to herbicides. How can death be seen as a good thing by the Pigweed population? Longleaf Pines have evolved in an area thats known for flashfires from lightning strikes. Fires are its greatest limiting factor. Because of this, baby trees need to find a way to time their growth perfectly to avoid being burned to death in a fire. Once the tree is tall enough, most fires will only burn its thick bark and not damage the vital insides of the tree. Baby Longleaf pines have evolved so that they need to be burned before they will grow into adults. A baby long-leaf looks more like a green prickly bush than a tree. Once it has been burned the tree grows super-fast so that by the time another fire starts it will be safe. Not all pines are like this, though. Scientists think that originally Longleaf Pines were like other trees and just grew without waiting for a fire. How could the death of some of those old types of pines help the population as a whole?

Data Center
How do humans impact their surroundings? Check out the images below from the US Geological Survey. Each shows an image of Orlando, FL from different time periods. How much has the city grown in 19 years? How would this affect the food webs and ecosystems in these areas?

Orlando 1973

Orlando 1992


Each yellow square is about 125 sq. km

= City

= Water

= Land

You are an alien that has crash-landed onto Earth. Your alien species is like nothing the Earth has ever seen you can change your DNA so that your body grows in whatever way you can imagine. Each of the following environments are a possible place for you to land. Your mission is as follows: 1. Choose one of the ecosystems for your alien to crash land into. 2. On your worksheet, list and explain 5 adaptations your alien will make to its body so that dealing with limiting factors and the ecosystem is easier. 3. On your worksheet, draw your modified alien so that it includes the 5 adaptations you made it its body.

An example of your Alien species. Your blobby body might not look like much now, but just wait until you adapt!




Models are a way to represent something thats too large, too expensive, or just plain too hard to do naturally. Youre going to model planning an ecosystem-friendly human development. The local Jacksonville Rural Development Committee, JRDC, would like for you to find a way to plan the placement of several human locations in a wildlife area while keeping as much of the native wildlife in place as possible. Each species population needs different amounts of area in order to thrive. Your worksheet has a grid for you to setup your development. Listed below are Human Developments that need to be added to the area, as well as the amount of space each native organism needs to survive. Will you be the development planner the JRDC chooses to use?

Each development shows the amount of space it will take up. Outline the locations in BLACK on your planning grids and label them. Shopping Center Needs 2 (Includes Parking) Schools Needs 3 (Includes Parking)


Each population shows the amount of space it needs. Include as many populations as possible. (Populations should overlap on your grid.) Producers Grasses, Shrubs, Flowers, and Trees Primary Consumers Herbivores Secondary Consumers Omnivores and Carnivores


(shade squares green)

Neighborhood Needs 4 (Includes Streets) Restaurants, Shops, Boutiques, Movie Theatres, Parks, Etc. Needs 10 (Includes Parking)

Utilities (Water & Electricity) Needs 2 (Includes Parking)

Requires 4 Green Squares (outline 4 squares in blue)

Requires 4 Blue Squares (X 4 blue squares in red)

Roads As many as needed

A gray wolf prowls the underbrush. It stops for a moment and raises its head. It looks about alertly. It bares its sharp teeth. Its golden eyes glint in the sunlight.


Like lions, tigers, eagles, and sharks, the wolf is a predator. It hunts other animals for food. Some people admire the wolf. Others fear it. Visitors to zoos or animal parks tend to think that wolves, tigers, and other predators are pretty cool. Ranchers who are trying to protect their cattle have a very different reaction. They tend to like only one kind of predator: the dead kind. Will Holder used to have the same reaction that most ranchers do. As a kid growing up on a ranch in Arizona, Holder learned early on that wolves, coyotes, and mountain lions were supposed to be evil, ever poised to pounce on a herd of innocently grazing cattle. What you did when you saw coyotes run across the road was to jump out of the pickup and shoot them, Holder says. As the years passed, Holder started to wonder if killing predators actually helped protect livestock. He asked his parents when a coyote had ever killed a ranch animal. His mother could remember just one incident, which had occurred during a drought in the 1950s. Was it really necessary to shoot coyotes? Holder asked himself. So, when Holder started his own ranch, he took a different approach. Instead of chasing predators away, he allowed them to live on the same land as his cattle do. Holder still keeps a close eye on his livestock. He uses various strategies to give predators fewer chances to grab a farm animal. And it seems to work. After 8 years of ranching, Holder has yet to lose a cow to a predator. Many of Holders neighbors think hes crazy. But the idea of predator-friendly ranching is catching on. Perhaps predators, livestock, and people can live in harmony, after all.

Conflict The message of living in harmony is becoming more urgent. Conflicts between people and predators are becoming more common because development and population growth are bringing people and wildlife closer together. From tigers in India to lions in Africa, many of Earths fiercest and most magnificent creatures are rapidly heading toward extinction. This problem is happening all over the world with basically every type of predator, Adrian Treves says. Hes a conservation ecologist with the Wildlife Conservation Society. When predators show up, farmers get angry, Treves says. The most common response is to kill wildlife. Now, however, science is starting to suggest that predators have a far worse reputation than they deserve. In an article in a book coming out later this year, Treves presents evidence that killing cougars, wolves, and bears benefited livestock on only a third of ranches that were studied. Even in these cases, the benefits lasted for just a short time. In another recent study, researchers at the University of Stirling in Scotland looked at the effects of predators on livestock around the world. Their major review showed that, in places where lions, wolves, jaguars, and snow leopards live, predators cause only 3 percent of livestock deaths, at most. The review also pointed out that most conflicts focus negative attention on one major predator, without acknowledging the damage that disease and other predators can do. In Spain, for instance, farmers kill red kites, an endangered type of bird, because the kites eat their rabbits. Meanwhile, there are 28 other predators there that also eat rabbits. Overall, the study found, theres just not enough evidence to conclude that killing predators does livestock any good. Nor did the number of predators in an area seem to affect how many livestock were killed.


Livestock threats Still, its easy to see why ranchers might hate predators, even if they just suspect that the animals pose a threat to their livestock. The quality of their cattle or sheep directly impacts how much money they make. So, anything that endangers their animals endangers their ability to put food on the table. Scientists take a less personal view. They focus instead on the importance of biodiversitythe enormous variety of life on earth. In that spirit, every species has value, Treves says, and every species is worth protecting for its own sake. Each species is connected to many others, he says. So, if you destroy one, you end up affecting the entire balance of nature. In Wisconsin, for example, wolves eat white-tailed deer. Wisconsins wolves are in trouble, though, and the deer population has exploded as a result. All these deer have to eat something, and their diet now includes rare plant species, which are in turn becoming extinct. People are paying a price for the imbalance, toowith chewed-up gardens and damaging collisions between cars and the hefty animals.


Predator Havens Predator-friendly farming might be the answer, Holder says. He was inspired to try it when scientists began reintroducing wolves in Arizona. Holders first reaction was negative. Reflexively, we thought, No. Theyre going to eat the cattle. The last thing we need is more of them, he says. Then, we started to recognize a lot of the little things that make up the big picture of how the environment works, Holder says. We recognized there was a role that the wolves could play. Holder also developed strategies that made his cattle less tempting targets. To outwit a predator, he says, you have to think like a predator. Holder likes to go out into the fields and just watch what wolves do. Then, he uses what he sees to prevent attacks from happening in the first place. Holder has noticed, for instance, that wolves like to eat without a lot of hassle. So, he spends a lot of time with his cattle and moves them around a lot. He also keeps his cows clustered together. Attacking a large group is a lot less appealing to a predator than attacking a single cow. The extra effort pays off, Holder says. There are now between 100 and 120 wolves living near his ranch, he says, but none has ever eaten any of his cows. And people are willing to pay much more for his organic, predator-friendly beef than they would for ordinary meat in a grocery store, partly because they know their money is helping protect biodiversity.


A good deal The wolves in Arizona seem to be enjoying the deal, too. They have plenty of elk, squirrels, deer, gophers, and cockroaches to eat. And while no studies have actually looked directly at how predator-friendly farming affects predator populations, the strategy does seem to make sense to researchers such as Treves. Were sure that predator-friendly management is going to help, Treves says. So far, the outlooks pretty good. For his part, Treves has been studying wolves in Wisconsin. Hes trying to understand what makes some wolves more likely to attack than others. Hes also looking at factors that seem to encourage wolves to go after livestock. Some patterns are emerging from his research. Mixing small wolf packs with large herds of livestock in areas where wild habitats overlap with ranchland, for one thing, seems to be a recipe for disaster. Carelessly throwing away animal carcasses causes problems, too. Treves is also studying what makes some people react so strongly to wolves and other predators. Figuring out where peoples feelings about predators come from, Treves suggests, is the first step toward changing those feelings and protecting predators in the long term. Learning to live together will take a lot of effort and a large dose of cooperation, Treves says. Eventually, though, maybe everyone will get alongwolves, tigers, people, and all.


Good luck! This picture represents a rancher or farmers usual way of dealing with top predators like wolves and coyotes. Could there be a better way of dealing with these large beasts?

Today you will be jigsawing an article about predators, livestock, and conservation.


Read the cards silently. Once youve spent about 10 minutes reading your card (or cards), discuss the questions on your worksheet and come up with answers as a group.

Divide the cards amongst yourselves. There are 5 cards, which means someone is probably going to get stuck with 2. Just remember who it was if no one wants to do it, and let them have a break next time. Work as a team.