5th grade unit 4

Environments: How are plants and animals connected in an ecosystem?

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An environment is an organism's surroundings. There are terrestrial (land) environments, and aquatic (water) environments. Environmental factors are non-living and living things that make up that environment. Factors include temperature, altitude, organisms (living things), etc.

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Terrestrial environments are divided into biomes. Biomes are large regions of the world with similar living and non-living factors. Biomes includes a tropical rainforest, deciduous forest, savanna, desert, tundra, and taiga (coniferous forest). A biome is made up of many similar ecosystems.

An ecosystem is a system of living and nonliving factors that interact with each other in a specific area.

Terrestrial Biomes

Deciduous Forest

Taiga (Coniferous Forest)


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Tropical Rainforest



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Aquatic Environments (Marine and Freshwater)

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Different fish need a different level of acidity in the water. An acid is something that tastes bitter (like lemon or vinegar) and dissolves some metals into water. Trout, for example, need a pH of approximately 5.5, which is slightly acidic. A pH of 5 results in abnormal growth, and a pH of 4.5 results in no growth of baby trout.

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Acid corrodes calcium. Calcium is present in egg shells, bones, and exoskeletons.

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Sea Urchins Grown in Water With Different Levels of CO2

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Some predators of other crustaceans, however, benefited from prey that had weaker exoskeletons.

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CO2 is a greenhouse gas, which means it traps the sun's heat in the atmosphere. This can affect various organisms that need specific temperatures to thrive.

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Factors that can cause water to become more acidic include:

  • Higher level of carbon dioxide (what animals breathe out)

  • Acid rain (which can be caused by car exhaust and fossil fuel emissions like carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides)

  • Acidic mine drainage (AWD)

  • Agricultural runoff

Acid Rain

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Too much acid in water can be harmful to fish because:

  • Greater acidity slows down the rate of decomposition of dead plants and animals.

  • Fish's reproductive cycles are interrupted because their eggs cannot hatch in acidic water.

  • Acidity can lead to a calcium deficiency, which affects their bone health.

  • Acids can leach metals into the water, such as aluminum, which can suffocate the fish when they breathe it in.

  • Bird that eat water organisms contaminated with toxic metals can also be harmed.

Sources of water pollution includes sewage, factory smoke, fertilizers, garbage, pesticides, and various other kinds of waste. In an ecosystem, some animals are more sensitive than others to water pollution.

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Macro-invertebrates (large animals without backbones) tend to be a good indicators of pollution because they are sensitive and start dying off as a stream becomes increasingly polluted. Examples include clams, crayfish, snails, and various insects. Midges and worms tend to be more tolerant of pollution than other macroinvertebrates, so if there are many midges and worms, but few of the other macro-invertebrates, the water is likely polluted. Stoneflies, on the other hand, are very sensitive, and their presence indicates a healthy stream.

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One of the fish we studied, trout, need a habitat that is clean, cold, and has fresh oxygenated water. A habitat is where an organism lives. Environmental factors include the temperature, salinity (how salty it is), other organisms (plants and animals), etc.

External Structures of a Trout

Internal Structures of a Trout

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Brine Shrimp

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Brine shrimp are important crustaceans in a salt lake or pond ecosystem. Their eggs hatch only with a specific salt concentration (salinity).

Climate Change in a Jar

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1. Environments Unit Summary

2. More information on biomes and ecosystems.

3. National Geographic Video on Acid Rain

4. US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) article on Acid Rain

5. BBC video collection on trout

6. Effects of Acid Rain on Lakes

7. EPA Acid Rain Animation

8. EPA Emissions

9. Video: Ecological Effects of Global Warming on Aquatic Environments

10. Sources of CO2 Emissions

11. Mono-Lake

Videos from the American Museum of Natural History

12. How does acidification of oceans affect growth of organisms?

13. Carbon Cycle

14. How does Climate Work: A Tour of the Cryosphere

15. Sea Surface Temperature

16. Hurricanes and Climate Change

17. Supercomputing the Climate

18. Ancient Climate Change

19. Climate Record in Ice

20. Studying Climate Change

21. Melting Ice, Rising Seas

22. The Ecology of Climate Change

23. Carbon Monoxide

24. Climate Change Already Happening in the US

25. Climate Change and Droughts

26. NASA Climate Change Evidence

27. Crustaceans and CO2 in Water

28. Acid Rain

29. BBC Acid Rain Video

30. NASA Video: Salinity and Ocean Currents

31. Video: Mono Lake and Salinity

32. Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2ESen-T0S2ESalt Lake

33. Video: Green Roofs for Healthier Cities

34. Video: Green Roof Types

35. Video: Cool Roofs

36. Video: Climate Change