Hopper Mountain NWR Food Web

DCIs: LS2.A: Interdependent Relationships in Ecosystems; LS2.B: Cycle of Matter and Energy Transfer in Ecosystems; LS2.C: Ecosystem Dynamics, Functioning, and Resilience; LS4.D: Biodiversity and Humans

SEPs: Building and Using Models; Analyzing and Interpreting Data; Engaging in Argument from Evidence; Asking Questions

CCCs: Systems and System Models; Energy and matter: Flows, Cycles, and Conservation; Cause and effect: Mechanism and Explanation. Optional: Structure and Function

CA EPs & Cs:

Time: 2-3 Days, 45 minutes each

Prep: Review Lesson Plan; check out another teacher's example here; Prepare 4 lengths of string/yarn about 20’ (length of your classroom) for each of the 8 species in the Food Web. Species ID cards* should be printed and placed around the classroom where students can work in groups and can stay during the building section. If ID cards are being used, you will have to find a way to attach string/yarn directly to the species – like a number holder type deal they have at pizza places.

*Other representations of species is ok: skulls, toys, stuffed animals, student made models, etc.

Anchoring Phenomena

Essential Question

What role does the California condor play in the California ecosystem, and how do changes in the ecosystem impact condors over time?


Day 1

1. Watch warm up video with Carol Hunsperger, the Assistant Curator of Birds at Santa Barbara Zoo, loving her job.

2. Intro - Inform students that they will be studying the Hopper Mountain Ecosystem by researching data about the diet of individual species, and then working together to build a model of this ecosystem’s Food Web, showing their relationships (predator/prey).


3. Divide students into 8 groups, and assign each student group a photo or model of a species from the Species ID cards.


4. Students will explore the models/photos of the species assigned to them.  Have students share with their neighbor what they notice and wonder about the model or photo. After students have discussed what they notice/wonder, ask them what they think their animals diet is based on their observations.


5. Students will identify the predators and prey (species) that the animal assigned to them interacts with.

- 1 Day lesson:  Species ID cards have Predator/Prey list on back

- 2 Day lesson:  Research what their species predators and prey and create Species ID cards.​​

Figure Cretaceous terrestrial food web, Mitchell et al. 2012 PNAS.

Day 2 - 3

1. Building the Hopper Mountain Food Web Model (PowerPoint)

  • One student from each group will play the role of Species Guardian.  The Species Guardian will stay at the desk and hold on to their groups species card or model (they will be busy!).

  • Arranged in groups around their species ID card or model, instruct Students to attach (tie) a string/yarn from their species to one of their prey species.

  • Repeat this process for all of your animal’s prey species, don't forget vegetation.

  • Once all connections are made, ask students how the California condor fits into the model.

  • Introduce the condor card or model and have a student tie it into the species it consumes (You can do this verbally only without tying in to each species).

    • Condors eat carrion – dead animals, so they should connect to all prey species in the model with the exception of birds; there is little evidence that California condors regularly eat birds, or other condors.

2. Class Discussion - Using the Model

  • Ask students questions which the model could be used to answer. Options:

    • What animal is the best predator/hunter?

    • What food chains can you identify?

    • What animal is the most preyed upon?

    • What would happen if humans started eating rabbits instead of chicken?

    • What is this Food Web Model missing? (sun, water, decomposers, humans)

    • What would happen if a human started a wildfire in this ecosystem?

    • Using the model, could you think of which species might get called primary or secondary consumers?

  • Ask students what questions they have that the model could help answer.

    • Could we add anything or revise anything to help us?

    • Inform students that they will revise this model later before they add it to their Preliminary Model.

3. Obtaining More Information

  • Share the Condor Diet Datasheet showing additional species than our Food Web Model has.

  • Models are not perfect, and constantly need to be revised - add pigs and cows to the class food web (this can be physically with photos or biofacts tied in, or verbally stated).

  • Label producers, primary consumers and secondary consumers, scavengers, herbivores, omnivores, carnivores, predators, and prey on the Food Web (some species have more than one label).

4. Revise your Preliminary Model

  • After the activity, have students add the revised food web to their preliminary model. Have them label producers, primary consumers and secondary consumers.

  • Revisions can also include:

    • Changes or additions to their understanding

    • Additional information or evidence showing how their thinking has changed

Call us:

SB Zoo - 805-962-5339

USFWS - 805-644-5185

Find us: 

500 Ninos Dr, Santa Barbara, CA 93103

2493 Portola Road Suite A, Ventura, CA 93003