Beavers as Ecosystem Engineers


This lesson includes a Phenomenal Image focused on students making observations and asking questions about beavers impact on the landscape. The second part is a Data Play on the Impact that Beavers have on Biodiversity with a focus on a figure from a research paper.

60 minutes

Phenomenal Image 20 minutes. Data Play 20-40 minutes.


Middle School Life Science, High School Biology, AP Biology, Environmental Science, College Environmental Science, Natural Resources, Ecology

You will need:

Printed Paper maps

Digital map files

Online half-earth map

Beavers as Ecosystem Engineers

Learning Objectives

Students hone their observation and analysis skills using the I2 Strategy. They learn to make observations by comparing and contrasting images and then to form potential explanations for what they’ve observed. From concrete images they move to interpreting quantitative data based on the original phenomena to draw explicit conclusions about the impact that beavers have on biodiversity in terms of species richness.

Key Terms + Conditions

  1. Ecosystem engineer
  2. Keystone Species
  3. Species Richness
  4. Biodiversity Indicator
  5. Box and Whisker Plot
  6. Phenomenal image
  7. Habitat restoration
  8. Student engagement with authentic research data
  9. Observation to hypothesis
  10. Forming good questions
  11. Alternative explanations
  12. Concluding from evidence

Lesson Resources

Additional Beaver Resources

Top tips for Instructors

  • Start the lesson with the phenomenal image to prime student thinking on whether and how the activity of beavers can affect the landscape and other species living there. This can suffice as an engaging stand-alone image, especially with engaging discussion
  • Move students beyond observations with the data play section to engage them in drawing conclusions based on quantitative analysis, namely how many species live in a place under different conditions.
  • To spark student interest consider beginning the lesson with all or part of the video interview with Ben Goldfarb author of Eager: The Suprising Secret Life of Beavers and Why They Matter. Alternatively end the lesson with the video and perhaps a career discussion.

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