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5 Ways To Make Biodiversity a More Approachable Topic

Akanksha Saxena
Teaching with Labster
October 18, 2022

Introduction: Biodiversity

No matter in which part of the planet you live or go, you can find biological life harmoniously thriving and propagating there. Though one can easily distinguish between the different types of flora, fauna, and microbial lives, the one thing that continues to amaze mankind is the flawless balance that nature strikes in all its creations. This richness of biological life is precisely called “biodiversity”.

From an ecological point of view, biodiversity is defined as the ‘total number of morphologically and genetically distinct floral, faunal and microbial species in a well-demarcated area’. One can talk about the total biodiversity of the planet Earth or one can also pinpoint the biodiversity of a defined area in the picture.

Concepts of ‘high biodiversity versus low biodiversity’, ‘inclusion and exclusion of bacteria, archaea and some fungi’, ‘classical methods for identification versus novel modern methods for biodiversity characterization’, ‘relation of biodiversity to abiotic factors’, ‘role of environmental factors in the determination of between and within species biodiversity’, etc are highly interesting and scientists around the globe are working to demystify these concepts.

In academics, students are introduced to these terms usually in their biology or environmental science classes at a very primary level. No doubt, it is as enthralling for students as it is for all of us to learn about the extant varieties of plants, animals, fungi, microbes, etc. But as one moves into the details of the subject, it starts to create perturbations and discomfort for most students.

Despite being fascinating, students in schools and colleges find this subject to be hard. With a lot of facts and information at hand in the age of Google, students often lose track of how and what to learn about biodiversity. Since this topic requires one to ruminate and find the logic behind facts, teachers often find it challenging to plan and deliver insightful lectures.

We, at Labster, understand the complexities of this subject. This article can provide some help as it attempts to identify the major obstacles encountered by students whilst studying this topic. It also lists practical solutions that teachers and educators can incorporate in their next class. By the end, we’ll convince you why a virtual lab simulation will prove useful not only for your students but also for you as an educator to deliver concepts more efficiently.

Why can Biodiversity be tricky to teach or learn?

There are 3 reasons why students dread and get confused about the topic of Biodiversity. Acknowledging these blocks is the first step toward making the topic more approachable. 

1. It requires skill development over the years

For estimating the biodiversity of an area, one needs to acquire several sets of skills ranging from expertise in taxonomic knowledge (mind it, it's specific for each taxon whether they are plants, animals, bacteria, fungi, etc), a general prowess to work in an ecological system (knowing field biology tools like sampling techniques, quadrats, traps, field keys {dichotomous keys}), technical handling of GPS speedometers, etc. These are skills that develop over time and with experience in the field. Students can be intimidated by learning about so many skills to master. Certainly, a single or couple of field sessions cannot train one to master everything with precision.

2. Trouble relating it to the contemporary consumerist world

Students find the idea and importance of biodiversity quite difficult to understand in a consumer-centric modern world. They often wonder how learning about the planet's biodiversity or any particular place can be relevant to any job in the future. They also fail to comprehend how this knowledge base will help them solve academic research problems. With a lot to learn and remember in this domain of science, students end up struggling with the subject due to the lack of practical applicability. To add more trouble, they are often not educated in schools about the importance of biodiversity for the most basic “human survival” on this planet. And this issue grows astronomically as we see students turning into irresponsible citizens of this planet.

3. The lack of sufficient visual tools

Since the biodiversity of the planet entails all the biological life that it sustains, learning about different forms of life and their interrelationships should be captivating for students. But due to the lack of visual tools and interactive options, teachers aren’t able to demonstrate the subject’s breadth to its full potential. In such a situation, students aren’t left with many options to understand biodiversity in a fun-filled way. Rather, they feel forced to cram details with zero understanding and rationale. 

5 ways to make Biodiversity a more approachable topic to understand

To address the issues encountered while teaching Biodiversity, educators can engage the under-listed solutions in their classes. These can decode many different aspects of biodiversity. Not only can they make teaching easier for educators like you, but they will also make lessons clearer and easier to assimilate for your students.

1. Equip them with the required skill set

Since the topic of biodiversity is mostly theoretical with no practical wet lab handling, it becomes important that educators shed light on the instrumental aspects of biodiversity research work. With a robust theoretical knowledge base, one can easily understand the importance of field practices used in biodiversity studies. We list some of them for you to get your students started. 

  • The subject of Taxonomy: Biodiversity studies can’t be undertaken if one is not aware of the basic taxonomy. Taxonomy helps one to identify, classify and characterize different forms of biological life. Whether one is dealing with flora, fauna, or microbial life form, the taxonomy tool comes in handy when one venture out of the lab and begins their biodiversity fieldwork.

  • The idea of Sampling: Adequate sampling of the biodiversity forms the foundation of any biodiversity study. Sampling is a mode to collect and gather different types of biological organisms followed by their critical analysis to determine their identities and distribution in an area. Explaining the importance of good sampling in any biodiversity work becomes important in primary classes.

  • Methods of Sampling: There are different types of sampling. Explaining the role of each type can help your students have several options in their minds. This can help them use the required type of sampling depending on their research question. The Quadrat method is one of the sampling methods that you can familiarize your students with.

quadrat diagram

Figure: Quadrat method for sampling. Image Source

Similarly, you can talk in-depth about different measures that can help one to avoid experimental biases when working on a field for biodiversity works. 

2. Step out of the class and take more field trips

Taking more field trips is always recommended while teaching Ecology topics like biodiversity. It is a more engaging and fun-filled way of delivering ideas and information. While on the field, you can make them use different types of tools that can make the topic less conjectural and more practical.

Some of the tools could be:

  • Remote camera traps (for gazelles) 

  • Camera traps (for observing wildlife in their true forms)

  • Pheromones traps (like sticky traps) 

  • Food traps 

  • Pitfall traps

  • Use of dichotomous keys

  • Use of Google lens, and smartphone apps (for preliminary identification and not absolute identification)

  • The idea of biodiversity index 

  • Use of GPS speedometers (to record geo-coordinates for flora studies)

Field trips can be very informational yet interesting as the students get the chance to gather firsthand experience learning about different forms of biodiversity. Taking them on hikes and treks where they can taste the thrill of field biology can be useful beyond imagination. 

biodiversity pitfall trap

Figure: Snippet from the Biodiversity simulation by Labster showing different traps used for biodiversity studies. Full simulation is available for University/College classes.

3. Update them with the biodiversity’s importance in every form of life

This is another way to make your students aware of the topic of biodiversity. Talk them into its importance in all aspects of life on this planet. We provide some hints that educators can build their stories.

  • Importance of biodiversity in the ‘ecological aspect’: Explain the importance of biodiversity for the mere survival of human beings on this planet to your students. For a healthy ecosystem, it’s important that the natural diversity is unharmed and disturbed only very minimally. Highlight the scenarios where rich biodiversity has prevented cases of irreparable damages from smaller perturbations. This will develop a sense of admiration in your students for a healthy biodiversity index that holds the potential to recover ecosystems even from major disasters.

  • Importance of biodiversity in ‘commercial aspect’: Explain the importance of the rich biodiversity of the planet that we are exploiting to treat diseases (extracts from plants or anti-cancer drug development), to manufacture tasty delicacies (chocolate, coffee, berries), in day to day life (curd-setting bacteria, fermentation processes, brewing, and cheese-making microbes), etc. Quoting examples of different plants, microbes, and animals that help human beings in making different items can help your students in understanding the diverse roles played by different units of biodiversity on this planet. 

Figure: Snippet from the Biodiversity simulation by Labster showing pitfall trap used for biodiversity studies. Full simulation is available for University/College classes.

4. Educate them about the prospects

To make this topic (biodiversity) and relate one's perspective to your students, they must be aware of the prospects and scope of the subject. You can highlight how the world is trying to switch to sustainable economic growth plans. This is bound to create more opportunities for biodiversity experts and field biologists. 

By the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), United Nations, WWF, IUCN, and several such organizations, all the big MNCs and corporate firms are now beginning to develop sustainable growth plans that are responsible for the Earth’s biodiversity. 

Explain to your students how businesses and biodiversity are closely intertwined. Make them realize how every corporate firm secretly knows that all of its success is somehow dependent on the ‘natural biodiversity capital of the country it's based in. The higher the biodiversity reserve of a country, the higher its economical prospects and viability.

Make them see how enormously biodiversity contributes to the world economy; nearly 40%. This will charge your students to learn more about biodiversity with passion and an urge to make future business plans that don’t risk the associated biodiversity since its loss is directly an equitable major financial setback for the firm, disruptions in operations, and also reputational risks for the firm. 

biodiversity virtual lab 3

Figure: Snippet from the Biodiversity simulation by Labster showing an interactive lesson on biodiversity. Full simulation is available for University/College classes.

5. Use virtual lab simulations

Since field trips can’t be taken every day and with a dearth of visualization tools at hand, the subject of biodiversity can turn both boring and complex for students. Rather than struggling with how to deliver the lecture more efficiently, we at Labster encourage modern-day educators to make the most of the Biodiversity simulation. It takes your students into a virtual world where they can understand how biodiversity is studied, which tools are used in the field, how quadrats work, and much more. As your students venture to a virtual exoplanet Astakos IV and utilize different ecological methods to assess and compare biodiversity, they can learn the importance of sampling and biodiversity index. As they virtually compare biodiversity from three different sites, you can explain the importance of elevational biodiversity gradient to them.

With virtual laboratory simulations from Labster, teachers can make more insightful points as students are rendered with better visual options where they can follow the different concepts in a free-flowing manner. 

Your students don’t have to struggle anymore as our interactive Biodiversity simulation along with gamification elements will save the day for you. By using this way of active and immersive teaching, our virtual learning platform takes an advent in the field of Science to make the upcoming scientists thorough with the “basics of their respective subjects”. 

Biodiversity simulation GIF

Figure: Snippet from the Biodiversity simulation by Labster showing the use of a quadrat in a virtual tour of an exoplanet for biodiversity study. Full simulation is available for University/College classes.

You can learn more about the Biodiversity simulation here or get in touch to find out how you can start using virtual labs with your students.

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