Plants on the Move
This activity focuses on the way that plants move to colonise an area, and how they are adapted to be 'first' colonisers or later followers, as conditions change. It can be an opportunity to look at different plant groups and to concentrate on the process of succession and adaptation.
There are a variety of activities for different levels and age groups.
OBJECTIVE: to learn skills in field studies and plant identification; understanding ecological succession.
TIME: 1 - 2 hours
LOCATION: see site map.
YOU WILL NEED: activity sheets, quadrats / hulahoops (1 per group). coloured pencils, identification.
Plants are the first colonisers of a new area and they have to adapt to a combination of wind exposure, drought, salty conditions and sand lacking humus or nutrients.
The process by which plant communities create conditions allowing new species to invade is called ecological succession. This helps to establish a new coastline and enables other vegetation and associated animal communities to settle there.
Before the Activity
Sampling with Quadrats
Discuss the idea of looking at a large area and the idea of sampling. Practise using quadrats / hula hoops to count different plants on the grass in the school grounds or in a local park.
Construct and use a simple plant key.
If you are looking at different plant groups, introduce the words and whether the plants are flowering or non-flowering; introduce fungi as neither plants or animals, living only off dead plant and animal matter.
Look at some pictures of the different plant groups.
Use the information sheet to aid identification of plant groups.
Plant treasure hunt
The Treasure Hunt is a good starting point for observing and learning about plants. Make sure that no-one picks any live plants. Each student should be given a copy of the treasure hunt activity sheet. After completing their individual hunt they may wish to see if they can find each others' plants using the drawings and descriptions - a good test of field skills!
Plant succession survey
Level C - D: Use plant survey recording form.
This activity can be done by walking from the beach into the dunes in an approximately straight line. Ask the students to stop where they think there is a change in the vegetation. Survey each different area of vegetation as you cross into it. Start in the dunes with marram grass; where the marram has disappeared; in a wet hollow area; on the top of an old dune and so on. The quadrats are thrown down randomly.
Level E - F: Use plant survey recording form 2.
You will need transect lines made of two bamboo poles joined with a length of string, measuring tapes, bamboo poles, quadrats/ hula-hoops.
Divide the group into smaller groups of 3-4. Each group takes a transect line from the beach which crosses the different dune areas. Place the bamboo where it is observed that the nature of the vegetation changes significantly. Measure the length of the transect from the starting point. Record at which points (paces or metres) the vegetation changes, and observe whether it is connected with a change of slope, anything else, or just the distance from the sea. Place the quadrats at regular intervals e.g. 2 or 3 metres.
Draw, describe and, if possible, identify the plants or plant groups by using the identification charts and keys provided. Count / estimate the number of each species present and measure the height of the tallest plant.
Extension activity: record the % vegetation cover of each quadrat - <25%, 25-50%, 50-75%, >75%, or use fractions. Any other observations they may consider important at the site, including adaptations of plants to environment, can be recorded. At each quadrat site, within the group, they swap roles, so that everyone has a turn at recording, pacing or measuring, observing and identifying.
While still at the site, compare the variety of plants growing on the youngest dunes with that of the oldest dunes and dune hollows. What does that suggest about the animal communities?
- Combine the results of each group. Create a summary table. Demonstrate how to draw up a bar graph - make a graph for number of species against length along the transect (age of dune - old to young).
- Make a line or bar graph showing height of tallest plant against length along transect (age of dune).
- Explain their findings. The graphs should illustrate how there is a greater variety (and more plants in total) of species on the oldest dunes. As the plants live and die, the organic matter accumulates, creating soil and enabling a greater variety of plants to thrive.
- Discuss the adaptations the plants have for living and surviving where they did: leaves; flowers; roots; low to the ground to get out of the wind (except grasses, because they are so streamlined).
- Develop a display illustrating ecological succession on the dunes.
- Discuss the advantages and disadvantages of managing the dunes to keep the grassland and heathland, and prevent woodland regeneration.
These downloadable materials are in pdf format. Get Adobe Reader if you have difficulty viewing these documents.