The University of Texas at El Paso

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Outdoor Activity: Sample a Real Ecosystem

Purpose: Identify the biotic and abiotic factors that make up a real ecosystem. Observe the relationships between organisms and their environment. Understand that each part of the ecosystem performs an important function important for maintaining balance in such ecosystem.


  • Small journal or notebook to take notes
  • Pen or pencil
  • Four wooden sticks (8in, or 20cm)
  • String (12ft, or 4m)
  • A small garden shovel or spoon

  1. Choose a park or a natural area inside or near your school.
  2. Divide the class in teams. Each team should:
  3. Choose a site to observe.
  4. Use the four wooden sticks and the string to form a 3ft x 3ft (1m x 1m) square, the stick being the four corners of the square. You have delimited the ecosystem you are sampling.
  5. Observe very closely what is within the boundaries of the ecosystem.
  6. Discuss with your team the following questions and write your group answers in your journal or notebook:
    • Name the non-living things that are found within the square. Ans. soil, water, air, rocks...
    • Name the living things you find (you can dig a little using the shovel) Ans. worms, ants, grass, tree, flower…
    • How do you think the living things relate to each other and to the non-living things in that ecosystem? Ans. The roots of the flower absorb water from the soil. The ants dig their tunnels in the soil, which is their shelter. The tree is the house for other animals. The ants eat the dead bugs…
    • What would happen if one of the components was lost of reduced? Ans. If there was no water, the plants would dry out. If there was no tree, the birds wouldn’t have a place to build their nest. If there were no worms, the soil would be more compacted and it would be difficult for plants to lay their roots…

    7. Share your answers with other teams.