Responding to a Changing Climate
How Vernal Pool Plant Communities React
Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
University of Colorado
Department of Animal and Range Sciences
New Mexico State University
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.
- Understand the following plant responses to climate change: elevational range shifts (attrition and community shifts); phenological shifts (over extended time periods); community shifts (novel competition and species response); and changes in biodiversity (resistance and resilience).
- Assess how specific vernal pool plant communities have responded to fluctuations in annual weather patterns.
- Predict how specific vernal pool plant communities may respond to future climate events.
Keywordsplants; weather variability; community shifts; vernal pools; range shifts; altered biodiversity; climate change; changing phenology
Educational LevelUndergraduate lower division, Undergraduate upper division
Type / MethodsN/A, Directed, Interrupted, Jig-Saw
Subject HeadingsEcology | Environmental Science | Natural Resource Management | Botany / Plant Science |
The PowerPoint presentation below can be used to help explain the nature and ecological importance of vernal pools (see teaching notes to this case study for details).