This learning activity will introduce students to the processes that shape populations. In particular, they will explore the factors that affect plankton population characteristics. They will see how the processes of birth, death, immigration, and emigration affect both the size of a population and its diversity. They will also practice plotting how population sizes change with time.

  • The differences between birth, death, immigration, and emigration.
  • The definition of diversity.
  • The ways in which the above processes affect the size and diversity of a population.
  • How to plot population changes with time.
  • Plankton populations do not change at all through time.
  • Populations may change in size or diversity, but not both.
  • Immigration and emigration are the same thing.
  • Students will initially be given a brief lecture on what population dynamics is. This presentation is found in the file called Plankton Population Dynamics Presentation. They will be given definitions for birth, death, immigration, and emigration within the context of plankton populations. After that, students will be divided into groups of 3 to 6 people to see how these processes affect populations. Each student will be given a set number of beans to represent individual plankton. Each group will be given two dice. For each individualís turn, depending on what their dice land on, the different population processes mentioned above will act on the studentís individual population. The different processes will also be associated with various changes in diversity. Students will have to keep track of the processes that act on their populations as the game progresses. Students will then use that information to plot the changes in their individual population sizes through time. At the beginning and end of the game, students will determine how diverse their population is.
  • Lots of beans (~5 1-lb bags, each of a different type, for a class of 40 students).
  • Colored dice (such as red or green, but any color will do).
  • White dice.
  • 6 bowls for each group.
  • Copies of the Plankton Population Dynamics Worksheet.
  • This lesson is the third in the unit Community Structure and Dynamics of Marine Plankton Unit.
  • The first two activities are Phytoplankton Cell Model Building and the second is Microzooplankton and Feeding Strategies.
  • This learning activity is anticipated for use in a 10th grade biology class.
  • The activity can be adapted for both small (10 students) and large (40 students) class sizes.
  • It is best suited for a 90-minute class period.
  • Students will need to know what plankton are.
  • Students will have to keep track of the size of their population with time as well as its diversity at the beginning and end of the activity.
  • Students will then be responsible for determining how the diversity of their population changed and for plotting the changes in their population sizes with time.
  • They will record this information in the worksheet Plankton Population Dynamics Worksheet.
  • See Expanded Teaching Notes document for further instructions on how to run this activity.

Population Dynamics

Population Diversity

Related Community
Structure and Dynamics of
Marine Plankton Activities
Lesson Specifics
  • Grade Level: 10, biology classroom.
  • Time Frame: 90 minute class.
  • California State Biology Science Standards: Primary standard 6c is covered. Secondary standards 6a, 6b, and 8e are covered.


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