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Akasha M. Faist
Assistant Professor
Department of Animal and Range Sciences
New Mexico State University
Grazing in Vernal Pools: Restoration Management Decisions

This case study in restoration ecology utilizes two peer reviewed articles that ask a similar question about the effects of grazing in temporary wetlands, yet the articles have different conclusions about these effects.  Students are challenged to think critically about how land management decisions, especially ecological restoration projects, are not black and white and can have unique outcomes. Using California vernal pools, or temporary wetlands, as the chosen ecosystem, students have the opportunity to learn about an ecologically dynamic habitat. In addition to learning about vernal pools, students construct an argument based on evidence while also identifying potential biases when the same question is tackled from different perspectives. The case was designed for an upper division environmental science or ecology course and would be appropriate for any course that involves restoration ecology, land management or scientific policy. Two optional PowerPoint presentations are included that provide background, detail, and structure to the classroom tasks.

Responding to a Changing Climate: How Vernal Pool Plant Communities React

This case study uses a jigsaw activity to introduce students to four specific plant responses to climate change: elevational range shifts, phenology shifts, community shifts, and changes in biodiversity. Students become "experts" on one of these responses by reading an article (from Nature, Science, or American Journal of Botany; not included with the case) on their assigned topic and then sharing their expertise with others in class. In order to hone their understanding and increase retention on these topics, students then learn about plant communities found in a specific system-vernal pools or seasonal wetlands typical of Mediterranean climates (a PowerPoint presentation on this topic is included). Students accomplish several small group tasks to assess how different vernal pool plant communities have responded to fluctuations in annual weather patterns and predict how these communities may respond to greater weather variability resulting from future climatic change. This case was written for mid- to upper-level ecology, plant ecology, botany, or environmental studies courses. The material covered may also be suitable for classes examining the role of weather variability/climate change in relation to plants.