EcoBeaker

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For over a decade, EcoBeaker® has been the world's leading program for teaching ecology using simulated experiments.

Now used in hundreds of colleges and high schools, almost 100,000 students per year learn basic and advanced ecological concepts by designing and conducting their own virtual experiments and analyzing their own data. Flexible ordering options and accompanying workbooks make EcoBeaker labs simple to adopt, and the well-crafted case studies and user interface make the learning experience enjoyable. Useful as either laboratory or homework activities, the EcoBeaker labs can also complement wet labs by providing a conceptual foundation.

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Lab (Workbook): Isle Royale Demo video available
This popular laboratory explores basic population biology concepts including exponential and logistic growth and carrying capacity. It is based on the textbook example of a predator-prey system involving wolves and moose on an island in Lake Superior. Students start out by characterizing the growth of a colonizing population of moose in the absence of predators. Next they introduce wolves, and study the resulting predator-prey cycles. Do predators increase or decrease the health of their prey populations? Students investigate this question by sampling the energy stores of moose with and without wolves present. Finally, they try changing the plant growth rate to see how primary productivity influences population dynamics.
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Level: Intro
Key Concepts: Carrying Capacity | Population growth | Predator-prey Dynamics
Courses: Ecology | Intro Bio: Eco/Evo/Genetics | Intro Bio: Non-majors | Population Biology
Reviews:
"We plan to continue to use EcoBeaker software in our Biology 101 labs next year. Student and TA feedback was very positive on both these labs [Isle Royale and Nutrient Pollution]."
Bruce Fall, University of Minnesota, 1,000 Student Introductory Biology Course
"Our experience with [the Isle Royale and Darwinian Snails labs] last Spring in our majors introductory course was excellent."
Dr. Lawrence Blumer, Morehouse College
"Our intro ecology course did the new Isle Royale lab this week and all of the instructors agreed that the new version is GREAT - so thanks for the great educational tool!!!! We all love how you worked global climate change into the new version and we also love the t-test at the end."
Billy Flint, James Madison University
Lab (Workbook): Keystone Predator Demo video available
This laboratory recreates the famous experiments of Paine and colleagues in the Pacific Northwest with the sea star Pisaster (and 8 other marine intertidal species). Students do transplant experiments to figure out competitive relationships and sample gut contents to construct a food web. Next they use their data to predict what will happen when each predator is removed from the system. Finally, they do the removal experiments and compare their results with their predictions. This is a great introductory lab in that it explores basic ecological concepts and although it is not difficult, it asks students to think critically, synthesizing experimental data to make predictions. It also provides a nice foundation for discussions of the important roles that different species can play in a community.
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Level: Intro
Key Concepts: Competition | Ecological Communities | Food Webs | Keystone Species
Courses: Community Ecology | Conservation Biology | Ecology | Intro Bio: Eco/Evo/Genetics | Intro Bio: Non-majors | Marine Biology
Reviews:
"I had great success using your EcoBeaker™ labs, Keystone Predator and Sickle-Cell Alleles, in my BIO102 General Biology II class (4 lab sections, 96 students) this spring semester. "
Dr. Daniel Vogt, Plattsburgh State University, General Biology
"They absolutely loved [Keystone Predator]. … [it] allowed them to quickly appreciate how the biology of the organisms played a role, that the species differed in colonizing abilities, and the concept of a species with an effect disproportionate to its abundance. I was amazed how quickly and effortlessly the simulation taught them a dynamic system. We all agreed that the graphics really work. One of the best features is the integrated abundance values so that you can freeze the action at any point and track individual species as opposed to general trends. "
Paula Philbrick, University of Connecticut
Lab (Workbook): Nutrient Pollution (formerly Sewage) Demo video available
What will happen if your city starts dumping lots of extra sewage into your local lake? This laboratory provides students with tools to explore nutrient enrichment, eutrophication, and bioaccumulation of toxins. Using a simulated lake containing phytoplankton, zooplankton and fish, they try varying phosphorus and nitrogen inputs, and record and graph the resulting algal and oxygen levels in the lake. They also sample species at each trophic level to determine what would happen if the sewage were to contain a biomagnifying toxin such as mercury. At the end of the lab they write a "letter-to-the-editor" about their findings and provide recommendations for the city regarding the consequences of sewage in the lake. This lab is used widely in non-majors and introductory biology classes as well as intro environmental science classes.
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Level: Intro
Key Concepts: Aquatic Communities | Bioaccumulation of Toxins | Eutrophication | Limiting Nutrients | Phosphorus
Courses: Applied Ecology | Aquatic Ecology | Ecosystems | Environmental Science | Intro Bio: Eco/Evo/Genetics | Intro Bio: Non-majors
Reviews:
"We plan to continue to use EcoBeaker software in our Biology 101 labs next year. Student and TA feedback was very positive on both these labs [Isle Royale and Nutrient Pollution]."
Bruce Fall, University of Minnesota, 1,000 Student Introductory Biology Course
Lab (Workbook): Patchy Prairies (formerly Butterflies)
Using a simulation of a population of Fender's blue butterfly, an endangered species that is endemic to western Oregon (USA) prairies, students are challenged to propose and justify (based on their own data) a habitat restoration scheme that will maximize survivorship of butterflies, given pre-existing patches of prairie. Students first learn about edge effects and how landscape features such as corridors and stepping stones might affect population survival. They then explore how using models (e.g., conducting sensitivity analyses) can help guide research. Improvements to this lab were suggested by users of previous versions, which have been very popular both with instructors and students.
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Level: Intro or Advanced
Key Concepts: Habitat Restoration | Metapopulations | Patchiness | Reserve design
Courses: Applied Ecology | Conservation Biology | Ecology | Intro Bio: Eco/Evo/Genetics | Population Biology
Reviews:
"It was easy to modify the final assignment to make it either more or less intensive as desired."
Cindy Bennington, Stetson University
"The students seemed to appreciate the realism of the simulation. It substituted well for a live lab without the students necessarily missing not going on into the field."
Bryan Dewsbury, Florida International University
"The class discussion [about Patchy Prairies] this morning was successful. Students ... thought it was easy to learn, and took away the major points I hoped they would."
Laura Jackson, University of Northern Iowa
Lab (Workbook): Liebig's Barrel and Limiting Nutrients
In this lab, students grow three different algal species in isolation in media containing nitrogen, phosphorous, and silica. They must first figure out which nutrient is limiting for each algal species, and what happens when the concentration of that limiting nutrient is changed. Then based on individual growth trajectories, students predict what will happen when different combinations species are grown together. Finally, student can manipulate death rates along with nutrients to explore R* competition and the paradox of the plankton.
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Level: Sophomore/Junior
Key Concepts: Competition | Limiting Nutrients | Nutrient Ratios
Courses: Aquatic Ecology | Ecology | Ecosystems | Environmental Science
Lab (Workbook): Top-Down Control (formerly Trophic Cascades)
Recreates the classic experiment of adding fish to a fish-free lake and observing the effects across different trophic levels. In this very open-ended lab, students are asked to observe what happens when fish are added. Then they are taught to use a set of realistic experimental tools such as species additions and subtractions, controlled tank experiments, behavioral observations to find feeding preferences, and more. With these, they must generate and test hypotheses to explain the trophic cascades and competitive dynamics they observe in the lake.
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Level: Sophomore/Junior
Key Concepts: Experimental Design | Food Chains | Trophic cascades | Trophic levels
Courses: Aquatic Ecology | Community Ecology | Conservation Biology | Ecology
Lab (Workbook): The Barnacle Zone (formerly Barnacles and Tides)
This is a recreation of the classic experiments of Connell on why the barnacles Chthamalus and Balanus have distinct distributions in the rocky intertidal zone of Scotland. Students first observe the distributions, then try to tease apart the causes through a series of removal and transplant experiments. In the more advanced section of the lab, students can add a predatory snail, creating a new distribution. This is a popular lab, especially for asking students to design and carry out experiments.
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Level: Sophomore/Junior
Key Concepts: Abiotic and Biotic Factors | Competition | Niches
Courses: Aquatic Ecology | Community Ecology | Ecology | Intro Bio: Eco/Evo/Genetics | Marine Biology
Lab (Workbook): Intermediate Disturbance Hypothesis
Using a model of succession from grasses to trees, students start out by observing a successional sequence without disturbance. Then they get to start setting fires. By systematically varying the size and frequency of fires, they recreate the standard textbook graph of the intermediate disturbance hypothesis showing that species diversity is highest at intermediate levels of disturbance. In an open-ended advanced section of the lab, students can alter the susceptibility of different species to burning and their succession rate to see how these factors influence diversity. This lab is often cited as a favorite by both instructors and students for its content, and also for the graphics that display red fire rushing through the forest. Although the ideas are typically introduced in upper-level ecology courses, the lab is straightforward and emphasizes data collection and graphing, making it applicable for courses for students without a scientific background.
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Level: Intro, Sophomore/Junior
Key Concepts: Disturbance | Intermediate Disturbance Hypothesis | Scientific modeling | Succession
Courses: Community Ecology | Ecology | Intro Bio: Eco/Evo/Genetics | Intro Bio: Non-majors
Lab (Workbook): Niche Wars (formerly Niches and Competition)
This fun and engaging laboratory, affectionately referred to as "the bunny lab", explores ecological niches and the competitive exclusion principle. Can four identical species of rabbits coexist in a yard with a limited amount of the only source of food (lettuce)? What would happen if a rabbit with a broader diet (e.g., lettuce and carrots) were to invade the yard? How could that rabbit's niche be modified to allow coexistence? Students address these questions by manipulating procedures and parameters in the model. The first part of the lab takes students step-by-step through manipulations and is great for introductory-level courses and as a general introduction to EcoBeaker models. The last (optional) part of the lab challenges students to figure out ways to modify the model to achieve coexistence with only one type of food being added to the yard. This part is open-ended and can be integrated with more advanced topics such as Lotka-Volterra models.
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Level: Intro
Key Concepts: Competitive Exclusion | Niche | Scientific Modling
Courses: Community Ecology | Ecology | Intro Bio: Eco/Evo/Genetics | Intro Bio: Non-majors

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