BIOL 215   My home page

Term project.pdf | Intro slides | Sample Data | Final report content & format | Grading form.pdf | Background topics | Identification references | my wiki | your wiki


2021 Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development
2019, 2020
World Water Day is March 22 | UN
U.S. Microbiome Initiative
U.N. Water for Life
International Year of Island Biodiversity
International Year of Water Cooperation
2012 marked the 50th anniversary of Silent Spring, the book that raised awareness of the environment in the general population.

Enjoy an exploration of the natural world as a micro-terrarium: M. Crichton & R. Preston. Micro. HarperCollins, 2011.


The living organisms in our world are varied in form, complexity, and diversity. During the course of the semester we will be looking at how this diversity meets the needs of organisms for nutrient procurement, gas exchange, excretion, and reproduction You will explore the unique relationships between the countless unseen living organisms that share our environment. This project will allow you to observe the diversity of life in a dynamic environment.

The purpose of this assignment is to help you.
1) Learn to read and use scientific articles.
2) Learn how ecosystems are studied.

Life on Earth is diverse and ubiquitous, filling large and small niches but limited by temperature, water, and energy resources. Individual organisms live in a community where they are competing for space and resources. The complexity of these communities can vary depending on location. Warm wet environments generally have greater species diversity than cold or dry environments.

The pool of water, which forms after a rain on a previously dry sidewalk will in a short time flourish with many tiny organisms. The bark on a tree harbors many microorganisms which are usually dormant when the bark is dry. When wetted these organisms come to life but are only visible with the microscope-aided eye. In ponds, organism are stratified at different levels in the water—all occupying different niches. You can go anywhere in the environment, collect organic material, give it moisture and nutrients and watch the many small organisms grow and compete among themselves for resources.

The Background section of your final paper should be a review of literature on some aspect of aquatic ecosystems. (Click on this link for possible topics.)

You're not the only people looking at aquatic microcosms in 2019

Past events


At the Shedd Aquarium; in Pittsburg

And plastic

Plankton chronicles

And climate change 1 | 2 | 3 | 4

Poisonous phytoplankton


Plankton World: The new frontier

Arabian Sea

New species

At UC 1 | 2

August 2015 Russion River toxic bloom

How NASA counts phytoplankton 1 | 2

Algae News

And TV

Algae art

The Perfect Beast

Under Antarctic ice (2014)

Searching for source of blooms

Sci Am: Beauty of the seas (slide show) (2014)

Warm waters

Under Lake Vostok (2014)

The plastisphere | pdf

Mapping the ocean (2014)

Indian Ocean-ecological desert

CO2 sink (2013)


Aquatic microcosms in the news (2012)

Work in groups of two students. Each group will have their own MicroAquarium to study an aquatic microecosystem. 
Water samples

Setting up your MicroAquarium
In the lab will be an assortment of waters collected from various sources that can be used in your MicroAquarium. You can also collect your own material. Let your instructor know if you want to do the latter. Record the source of material used in your aquarium.

1.   Obtain a MicroAquarium.

2.   Place one of the provided colored dots on the left hand side edge and write your initials on the dot.

3.   A thin layer of sediment (0–5 mm) resting in the bottom of an upright MicroAquarium provides food and habitat for many invertebrates. A coffee stirrer can be used to position substrates in the bottom. Excessive solid matter can reduce visibility into the microcosm

4.   Using a micropipette, extract water from one of the containers on the lab bench or from the water you collected.

       a.    Extract enough water from the bottom of the container to fill the MicroAquarium tank about 1/3 full.

       b.    Extract the next 1/3 of water for your tank from the middle.

c.    Then fill the rest of your tank with water from the surface.

5.   Decorate it with some plant or other objects provided.

6.   Replenish evaporative water loss as needed (ca. every 10 days) with distilled water.

              Food will be added by the instructor at a later date.

Observing the contents of your McroAquarium
You can observe the contents of the MicroAquarium with a dissecting (stereo) microscope, compound upright microscope, or inverted compound microscope. Contents are best viewed through an inverted compound microscope.

1.   Remove the stand and lid from the MicroAquarium tank.

2.   Gently lay the tank on the microscope stage with the open end away from you. Capillary action will keep the water in. When using the compound scope you can place it in the slide holder and move the tank with the appropriate knobs. On the dissecting scope lay the tank flat and manipulate it with your fingers.

Fly larvae (at arrows) crawled out of the mud on day 20 in this aquarium..

Things to look for and record
The tank will have living organisms and various forms of debris. You are to observe the living organisms

1.   Stationary vs. moving organisms.

2.   If moving, a description of motion.

3.   Single celled vs. multicellular organisms

4.   Chlorophyll green vs. non-green organisms.

5.   Habitat preference of the different organisms – bottom, middle or top

6.   For each organism record:

       a.    Identify it if possible or carefully sketch it so you can recognize it in subsequent observations.

From BIOL 215: A tardigrade seen in a microaquarium. These animals are called water bears because of their lumbering gait. & another student's video.

       b.    Record the number observed.

7.   pH changes.

8.   Did you replace evaporated water?

9.   When and what food was added.

Observing your MicroAquarium weekly
You are to come and observe your MicroAquarium at least once a week over the next nine weeks.

Make some of the following observations.

1.   What changes have occurred from the last observation?

2.   Have the numbers of each organism increased, decreased or stayed about the same?

3.   Are there dead organisms in the bottom layer of the tank?

Wikiwiki means fast in Hawaiian. A wiki log is a fast way to take notes and develop your project.

Your Weekly Log
Your wiki log is an open notebook of your activities while working on this project. This will provide your data and notes for your final report.
You should add to your log at least once each week – each week's entry should appear before Monday of the following week.

1.   Things you should include

      a.    The name of the water source you used including other objects you might have added.

      b.    Observations you make each week from your MicroAquarium.

      c.    Images of organisms: A minimum of four images are to be included. All images should be yours. NO IMAGES FROM THE WEB or copied from other sources. For each image, cite a source for its identification.

      d.    When searching for information on the web include URLs you found useful and what information was pertinent to your project.

      e.    A list of the organisms found in your MicroAquarium, numbers observed, date when first observed and date when last observed.

2.   Other pertinent comments, questions, or images you want to add are up to you.

3.   Make sure you compose complete sentences with correct spelling and grammar because your instructor will read this information.

Identification references to get started:
Pond Life Identification Kit
The Smallest Page on the Web
Nikon Pond Life Video Gallery
Small Freshwater Organisms
Algae in Water Supplies
World of Amoeboid Organisms
A Guide to the Study of Freshwater Biology
Protist images
Planktonic algae
Mosquito larvae keys 1 | 2
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Click on the circles to explore the spring in Parking Lot C.

the pond