For the Teacher

Lesson Overview

This module was created to accompany “Understanding the Changing Planet” Chapter 2.  Humankind has substantially changed the surface of the land and connectivity between natural areas world wide. A single image of our collective “footprint” on Earth’s surface can be seen in this image calculated by the Wildlife Conservation society and Columbia University:  (

conservation map

The challenge we are now facing is while making room for ourselves, how to set aside enough area to keep our planet's diverse collection of plants and animals alive before we push many species to extinction. This exercise will introduce students to how diversity on Earth has been established. They will look for areas within the most abundant regions remaining to prioritize what areas might be preserved.

Estimated Time

This activity should take a total of 120 minutes for your students to complete. You can separate these activities into 40-minute segments, choose one of the two activities for a 15- to 20-minute experience, or you can assign the activities for homework.  Your students will be able to freely obtain all tools necessary to complete these activities independently should you so choose for them to complete these on their own.



  • Photocopy a student answer sheet for each student to hand in
  • Have the students use the interactive pdf and email you their answers on the pdf
  • Computer with internet connection
  • ArcGIS Explorer Online requires the Silverlight 4 platform from Microsoft, and a browser which supports the Silverlight plug-in, for example current versions of Microsoft Internet Explorer or Google Chrome on Microsoft Windows, or Safari on Macintosh OS. You do not have to install any Esri software on your computer, because the application runs within the existing web browser.
  • Understanding the Changing Planet online website--Module 2:  How Can We Best Preserve Biological Diversity and Protect Endangered Ecosystems.

    Student Answer Sheet


The student will be able to:

  • Use maps to interpret where biomes are distributed around Earth
  • Analyze patterns of high plant and animal diversity on the planet
  • Locate areas of less human impact in environments world wide
  • Identify the intersection of high diversity and low human impact to prioritize these areas for preservation

Teacher Notes

Lesson Introduction

Life on our planet has proliferated to grow and even thrive in a huge variety of circumstances and environments.  Humans have also found ways to live and prosper on earth.  By November of 2011 over 7 billion people have been able to support themselves off of what the earth provides.  In our effort as a species to make a living and raise families, we capitalize on more and more of the resources other organisms need to live.  “Human activity is the likely cause of the extinction of or disappearance of close to 850 species over the past 500 years.  The rates of plant and animal extinction today are conservatively estimated to be 100 times to more than 1,000 times greater than past average extinction rates calculated from fossil lineages (MEA, 2005).

Geographic Investigation

Students will investigate the distribution of living areas (biomes) around the globe by progressing through an ArcGIS online map presentation. There are slides that encourage students to look at other data in pop-up maps that display plant and animal diversity information. Students are encouraged to look for where these patterns overlap to come up with priority areas for conservation. The last few slides direct students to focus on recognized priorities for conservation agencies worldwide. Once students have chosen areas either by group consensus, by writing them down on the answer sheet, or using the draw tools to commit to regions they think are important, they can compare these to one noteable effort by Conservation International and their priority places of conservation efforts.

        Student Answer Sheet KEY

Credits and References

  • All data and maps in this lesson are to be used for educational purposes only. It is not to be used for research purposes.

    List of Plant and Animal distributions:

    IUCN Red List of Total # of threatened mammals

    IUCN Red List  of Mammal Diversity

    IUCN Red List of Total # of threatened Mammals

    IUCN Red List  of Amphibian Diversity

    IUCN Red List of Total # of threatened Amphibeans

    IUCN Red List of  Amphibean endemism

    IUCN Red List of Total # of threatened Coral species

    IUCN Red List of Total # of threatened Bird species

    Conservation International's   Biodiversity Hotspots

    Imperial College assessment of Total Threatened Lizard species

    Bird total species density and Threatened Species Density

    Mammal total species richness and threatened mammal species richness maps

    Amphibian total species richness and threatened amphibian species richness

    Authors: B. Duke, A. Palmer & R. Palmer

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