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An Interdisciplinary Deer and Human Population Study

William J. Webb



Modified by Bill Webb from CORD's A B C Curriculum

Type of Entry:

  • Project

Type of Activity:

  • Hands-on
  • Simulation
  • Group/Cooperative Learning

Target Audience:

  • most applicable - Environmental Studies
  • Life Science
  • Biology


BACKGROUND INFORMATION:

This activity helps the student to answer the question "What environmental problems arise due to animal and human overpopulation and what might need to be done to combat these problems?" The class should have already covered some ecological material, and the students should be familiar with the concepts of population sampling, competition, overcrowding, habitat, niche, carrying capacity, food chains and food webs. During the first year this project takes some preparation time in order to collect and prepare the board games, but after that is done, the preparation time is negligible. Because our project is taught as an interdisciplinary unit, the other departments involved must be in sync as far as covering the related material at the appropriate time. The algebra classes generally start learning line graphing a few days before the biology classes begin the deer population simulation. Then the English classes begin their discussion of Swift's essay on population as the deer simulation is being completed in the biology classes. The entire project requires 10-15 days. The biology classes need 5-8 days, depending on the level of the students and the depth of coverage chosen by the teacher.


ABSTRACT

In our school, this activity is an interdisciplinary unit that involves all of the freshman Biology, Algebra I, Keyboarding and freshman English classes. In English classes, the students study satirical writing, such as "The Modest Proposal" by Jonathan Swift, a piece that deals with the problem of world overpopulation. In Algebra I, students graph deer population data generated in our biology classes and human population data obtained from Zero Population Growth in Washington, DC. They work on drawing the line graphs and also generating these graphs on Texas Instrument Graphing calculators. In our freshman biology classes, we discuss the implications of deer overpopulation and the various methods discussed by the Brown County, Indiana State Park officials in their attempt to solve the problem here in our state.

The next step for biology students is playing a game that simulates population sampling in an imaginary state park. After the game is completed, each park must decide if they are at the carrying capacity for their park or out of equilibrium. Finally, they write a proposal detailing how they plan to correct their deer population problem, including graphs from their Algebra classes, a poster with visual aids and a completed grant proposal with a budget request. Each group also puts their data on a spreadsheet on the science department computers, and we total all of the class figures.

Their final activity is to present their proposal with graphs and other visual aids to the rest of the class (the Department of Natural Resources) to see which parks will receive funding for their requests. Each group gives a ten-minute presentation highlighting specific details of their five-year study, such as the environmental state of their park at the present time and what measures they plan on taking to restore their park to the carrying capacity. We follow this exercise with a study of human population growth which we compare and contrast with the deer overpopulation problem. The students also write a proposal (satirical or persuasive) on what should be done in regard to the human overpopulation problem.


LESSON / ACTIVITY:

We play a game that simulates population sampling in an imaginary state park. We divide each class into six state parks. Students name their parks, and set up their board games. Each board is a checkerboard in which the black squares represent land with sufficient vegetation, and the red squares represent overgrazed land. The checkers are the deer (male are black, female are red). Each state park starts with 32 checkers (deer), randomly chosen from a bag, all placed on the "good land" (black squares). We then conduct five years of experiences where they count and record their park's deer populations on a data sheet. Each year six events take place: 1. a wildlife management mandate, 2. mating season, 3. a seasonal or man-caused impact, 4. hunting season, 5. another seasonal or man-caused impact, and 6. migration. After each event, the parks record their data on the data sheet (see attached). In our school, we have modified this portion of the game considerably. CORD suggests giving each group their own material and a pile of wildlife management and impact cards. They recommend that the students be told the order of the six events and randomly draw a wildlife management or impact card at the appropriate time and follow the directions. We have found that this is extremely confusing and frustrating for our students, so we have written a script which is read by the teacher to all of the groups at the same time. Each group, therefore, has all of the same events, but we still find variety in the way these events affect the different parks. Another option is to have several different scripts written out so each park could have unique experiences. This is what I am planning to do next year with the various scripts I've created.

The directions for wildlife management are given by the teacher at the beginning of each year, and the mandate is carried out for the entire year (sometimes longer). The seasonal and man-caused impacts are also read and explained by the teacher from the script and carried out by each group for a given amount of time. Mating Season is when any doe with sufficient nutrition (must be on a black square) mates with a buck in an adjacent square, and produces one fawn. The fawn (a new checker) is placed under the doe checker, on the same square, for the first year of its life. At the end of every year fawns must be moved from under the care of the doe and into any vacant square. Some will be able to move to suitable ground, some will be forced to try to survive on overgrazed land (red squares). Hunting Season is when a hunting screen (a piece of poster board cut the same size as the checkerboard with holes cut in it) is placed over the park (the checkerboard) and any deer that can be seen through the openings in the screen is shot by hunters. We constructed several different hunting screens and have the parks alternate them from group to group to get different and various hunting results from year to year. Some years wildlife mandates control the hunting season (i.e. no hunting season this year, only does may be shot...). Migration is when any deer on the perimeter of the park trying to survive on overgrazed land (red squares) either moves to adjacent good land (black squares) or leaves the park. Any open good land, on the perimeter of the park, is filled by new deer attracted into the park. Each group, therefore, removes starving deer and randomly brings in new deer onto the black squares.


Evaluation and Assessment:

After the game is completed, each park must decide if they are at the carrying capacity (32 deer) or out of equilibrium. Finally, they write a proposal detailing how they plan to correct their deer population problem, including graphs from their Algebra classes, a poster with visual aids, a completed grant proposal, and a budget request. Each group also puts their data on a spreadsheet, and we total the entire classes' figures. Each of the seven biology classes represents a different state, and the state totals and averages are also calculated and graphed by each group.


MATERIALS:

For each group:

  • 1 checkerboard (with wax finish, laminated or covered with clear shelf paper)
  • 100 checkers in a bag (50 of each color)
  • 1 eraser and 1 dry erase marker
  • 2 six-sided die
  • a data sheet
  • graph paper
  • calculator
  • pencils
  • presentation material (poster board, paper, pictures from science journals, markers...)

For the Teacher:

  • either a script of the events for the five year period or Wildlife Management and Impact cards like those provided by CORD
  • a computer with a spreadsheet program


SAMPLE SCRIPT OF EVENTS:

YEAR ONE

1. WILDLIFE MANAGEMENT - Hunting restriction (applies for only one year); only adult males may be shot.

2. MATING SEASON - Any female on a black square with a male on an adjacent square will have one fawn (place a new checker under the care of the doe).

3. IMPACT - The longest black line of squares on the board is a river. This spring, the river flooded, and any deer on that line had to move to an open adjacent square. Some deer may have to move to overgrazed areas. If no open adjacent squares are available, the deer were carried away in the flood and died.

4. HUNTING SEASON - Place a hunting screen over the park, and any adult male deer visible is shot.

5. IMPACT - Coyotes stalk the state park. They are only predators of the young deer, so all fawns on the perimeter of the park are killed (their mothers are not killed).

6. MIGRATION - Any deer on the perimeter that is on a red square either moves to an open adjacent black square or leaves the park. Any open black squares on the perimeter of the park are filled by deer migrating into the park.

YEAR TWO

1. WILDLIFE MANAGEMENT - A fence is built around the state park to help protect against predators and poaching. No hunting restrictions are in effect this year.

2. MATING SEASON - Any female on a black square with a male on an adjacent square will have one fawn (place a new checker under the care of the doe).

3. IMPACT - A wildfire spread through the park. The fire spread from the south west corner of the park. Roll the dice to see the extent of the damage. The highest number is how far east the fire spread, the lowest number is how far north the fire spread. Any deer in that area must move further into the park. If there are no open areas adjacent to the fire zone, they die in the fire.

4. HUNTING SEASON - Place a hunting screen over the park and any deer visible is shot.

5. IMPACT - There was a bitter cold winter with large amounts of snowfall. All of the fawns starve.

6. MIGRATION - Because of the fence around the park, no migration occurred this year.

The next three years would follow the same pattern with different impacts and wildlife management mandates. I have several completed scripts on file that you can request or you could create your own. Other ideas would be to show the effects of pollution of the river or to some other part of the park, show the sale of part of the park to a local rancher or industry (loss of acreage), a logging road built through part of the park, weather related effects (drought, tornado, blizzard), natural disasters (earthquakes, hurricanes, volcanoes...), the influence of other predators, contagious diseases... To show variability from park to park, any of these impacts can be measured differently at each park by having the groups roll the dice to determine the amount of land damaged or affected.


DEER POPULATION STUDY DATA SHEET

TIME FEMALE COUNT MALE COUNT TOTAL DEER POP.
ZERO    
YEAR ONE    
Wildlife Mangmt.    
Mating Season    
Impact    
Hunting Season    
Impact    
Migration    
YEAR TWO    
Wildlife Mangmt.    
Mating Season    
Impact    
Hunting Season    
Impact    
Migration    
YEAR THREE    
Wildlife Mangmt.    
Mating Season    
Impact    
Hunting Season    
Impact    
Migration    
YEAR FOUR    
Wildlife Mangmt.    
Mating Season    
Impact    
Hunting Season    
Impact    
Migration    
YEAR FIVE    
Wildlife Mangmt.    
Mating Season    
Impact    
Hunting Season    
Impact    
Migration    


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