As an Undergraduate Environmental Sciences or Biological Sciences teacher, you can use this set of computer-based tools to teach about ecological niches- their characteristics and the factors that affect them- and the biogeography of a species. More specifically, this lesson plan will teach your students about the implications of climate-induced disturbed ecosystems on the ecological niches and the biogeographical distribution of Mountain Gorillas; and about the scientific strategies employed to prevent this and thereby, aid in their conservation.
Mountain Gorillas inhabit sub-montane and montane habitats in two regions of Central Africa- the Bwindi and the Virunga areas bordering the countries of Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Rwanda and Uganda. These isolated populations are effectively ecological islands, as the lower reaches of these regions are inhabited by rural communities. Environmental degradation due to climate change and anthropogenic activities is severely affecting the natural dietary and ranging patterns of Mountain Gorillas, and thereby endangering their survival in the wild. This lesson plan includes resources to help understand these issues.
The lesson plan will describe how Bamboo, their preferred food and an integral component of their diet, is now extensively being planted in Uganda to restore degraded forest ecosystems and provide resources for sustainable living and economically viable livelihoods to local human settlements. Thus, Bamboo cultivation helps in restoring the natural habitat and provides sustainable livelihoods to local communities and thereby, help to conserve Mountain Gorillas.
This lesson plan, thus, allows you to integrate the teaching of a climate science topic with a core topic in Environmental Sciences or Biological Sciences (Conservation of Endangered Species).
A Teacher contributed lesson plan by Lukato Denis and Nandala Isaac Fred (Nyabyeya Forestry College); Dr Catherine A Masao (Institute of Resource Assessment, University of Dar es Salaam); Marceline Kabanzira (AUC); Sheba Ndagire (UAIA); and Rashedah Agero (Msitu Institute, Uganda).
Use this lesson plan to help your students find answers to:
- What is an ecological niche? Describe the factors affecting it.
- What is the biogeography of a species? Explain how it can be affected by climate related factors.
- Describe the ecological niche occupied by Mountain Gorillas in Central Africa.
- How can the Mountain Gorillas of Central Africa be affected by climate change?
- Explain how extensive planting of Bamboo in Uganda can contribute towards Mountain Gorilla Conservation in Africa.
- Using the example of integrated Bamboo planting as a supplement to natural resources, explain how a scientifically well-planned program could help achieve the United Nations defined Sustainable Developmental Goals (SDGs).
About Lesson Plan
|Discipline||Environmental Sciences, Biological Sciences|
|Topic(s) in Discipline||Ecological Niche, Biogeography, Habitat Use
Species Distribution, Dietary Habits, Ranging Patterns
Group Sizes, Feeding Competition, Reproductive Strategies
Habitat Degradation, Bamboo Plantation, Mountain Gorillas, Conservation
|Climate Topic||Climate and the Biosphere
Climate and the Anthroposphere
|A reading to define and introduce the topic of ecological niches and the biogeography of a species. It also explains how ecological niches determine the stability of ecosystems and the biodiversity of a region.|
|A reading that describes how climatic and non-climatic anthropogenic factors can affect the natural ecosystems and biodiversity of Uganda.
page 10, 11,12, section 2.2 & 2.3
|A case study of climate-induced habitat changes for Mountain Gorillas in Uganda that is putting their survival at risk.
Page 21, Box 5
|A reading to describe the climate adaptation strategies outlined for Mountain Gorilla conservation, ecosystems restoration, and the provision of livelihoods in Uganda, Rwanda and DRC.
page 45, 46 & 47, section 9.8
|Reading and Associated Audio
|A brief reading and an associated audio file that describes how Bamboo planting can be useful for Mountain Gorilla conservation.|
Here is a step-by-step guide to using this lesson plan in the classroom/laboratory. We have suggested these steps as a possible plan of action. You may customize the lesson plan according to your preferences and requirements.
Step 1: Topic introduction and discussion (Go to the Reading)
- Use this reading, ‘Ecological niches’ by Britannica.com, to define the ecological niche of a species, describe its characteristics and explain the factors involved in defining it.
- Use the examples given in the text to explain how natural selection works on the physical and biological constraints of a species in a given environment, and thereby determines the ‘niche’ that it occupies within elaborate ecosystems.
- Discuss how this ‘niche’ cannot be shared with another species competing for the same resources.
- Further, discuss how the biodiversity of a region is defined by these ecological niches that permit a wide variety of species to coexist with a finite set of resources.
- Navigate to the section on ‘Biogeographic aspects of biodiversity’ and use it to define the biogeography of a species.
- Use the embedded link to help explain ‘island biogeography’ and to describe the factors involved in the colonization of this controlled area of study, by different species of flora and fauna.
- Explain how isolated land areas like mountaintops and fragmented forests also follow the rules of island biogeography for species colonization.
- Discuss the examples given in the text to support this theory.
Step 2: Develop the topic further to discuss the influence of climate change on the biodiversity of Uganda
(Go to the Reading) page 10, 11,12, section 2.2 & 2.3
- Use section 2.2, page 10 and 11, of the reading, ‘Climate Change and Biodiversity in Uganda’ by Climatelinks (USAID), to discuss how a changing climate is likely to influence the natural ecosystems of Uganda.
- Use the points enumerated to describe different scenarios of climate change and the subsequent disruptions in the ecological balance between species and the flora and fauna distribution in Uganda.
- Discuss how these disturbances could affect the ecological niches occupied by various species and their abilities to adapt to such changes within a short span of time.
2. Use section 2.3, page 12, of the same reading to also describe the possible effects of non-climatic (anthropogenic) factors on Uganda’s biodiversity and ecosystems.
3. Explain how the effect of these factors may be exacerbated by climate related factors: for example, droughts leading to exploitation and agricultural expansion into forest habitats.
Step 3: Discuss the case study of the effect of climate change on Mountain Gorillas in Uganda
(Go to the Reading )Page 21, Box 5
- Use the reading, ‘Box 5: Mountain gorillas in the Virunga mountains face new threats as their habitat changes’ on page 21 from ‘Wildlife in a changing climate’ by the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), to discuss the case study of how climate change and anthropogenic activities are affecting the natural habitat and range distribution of Mountain Gorillas in Africa.
- They are geographically isolated in two populations in the Bwindi and the Mgahinga National Parks and are restricted to the higher reaches of the volcanic mountaintops. Surrounded by rural communities that are heavily dependent on forest resources at the lower altitudes, these gorilla populations are an ‘archipelago of ecological islands’ and therefore, highly vulnerable to ecological disturbances. They occupy different ecological niches in these forest ecosystems. Bamboo stands are highly sought after by the Virunga Gorillas for their tender shoots and high protein content while the Bwindi Gorillas eat more fruit and are arboreal. In season, Bamboo forms nearly 90% of the Mountain Gorilla’s diet. Nevertheless, Mountain Gorillas feed across a wide variety of plants that helps towards the rich biodiversity and maintenance of healthy ecosystems in these regions (For more information on their habits, feeding and ranging patterns, check the additional resources section of this lesson plan). However, warmer temperatures and change in precipitation patterns affect the vegetation and thus, the habits of these mammals.
- Apply the understanding from the previous section to explain how climate and non-climate stressors can affect the ecological balance and thus, the natural feeding and ranging patterns of the Mountain Gorillas.
- Explain that increased temperatures may move the growth of vegetation to higher altitudes and force them to inhabit higher areas. However, due to the tapering nature of the mountaintops, Gorilla habitat gets further restricted.
- Discuss how climate induced shifting bamboo cover not only adversely affects food availability for the Gorillas but also resource availability for people dependent on it thus, bringing them in direct conflict with each other.
- Further, explain that changing climatic conditions and heavy reliance on forest resources by humans has resulted in large scale habitat degradation putting further constraints on the physical and biological well-being of the species, making them more vulnerable to climate change.
Step 4: Improve understanding of the Mountain Gorillas’ habitat degradation due to climate related factors (Go to the Reading) page 45, 46 & 47, section 9.8
- Use the reading, ‘Case #8 Mountain Gorillas, Ecosystem Services and Local Livelihoods in Rwanda, Uganda and DRC’, section 9.8, pages 45-47 of the report, ‘BIODIVERSITY, CLIMATE CHANGE AND SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT- HARNESSING SYNERGIES AND CELEBRATING SUCCESSES’ by Guy Midgley et al, provided by UNFCC, to discuss the implications of climate change on Mountain Gorillas and the livelihoods of local communities in the Virunga region.
- Initiate classroom discussions on the findings of the report that mainly point towards restoration of Gorilla habitat through reforestation efforts for Gorilla conservation.
- Also, explain how the burden on forest resources due to human activity, can be reduced by using alternative resources like fast growing renewable Bamboo plants that can be creatively harnessed for sustainable living and for providing livelihoods in local communities.
- Finally, discuss how large-scale Bamboo planting could not only provide adequate food for Gorillas but also help restore degraded forest ecosystems and thus, be an effective climate adaptation strategy.
Step 5: Extend the understanding of the benefits of Bamboo as a natural resource
Report Bamboo can help to “combat climate change" and Associated Audio File
- Use this brief news report ‘Bamboo can help to “combat climate change" and the associated audio file (interview of the Director General of the International Network for Bamboo and Rattan (INBAR), Hans Friedrich), by UN News to explain the benefits of growing Bamboo as a fast-growing renewable natural resource to offset the adverse effects of climate change.
- Use this tool to explain how Bamboo is highly effective in reforestation and preventing soil erosion.
- Further, discuss the different ways in which Bamboo can be used in sustainable living and for providing economically viable livelihoods.
- Finally, discuss how restoration of disturbed natural ecosystems and the provision of new resources and livelihoods by Bamboo planting can reduce the burden on other forest resources, prevent further habitat degradation and thereby, aid Mountain Gorilla conservation.
- Read about the potential benefits of Bamboo by exploring item 3 and about an extensive Bamboo planting programme in Africa- Bamboo For Good (B4G)- by exploring item 4, in the additional resources section of this lesson plan.