To provide an introduction to conservation biology via the memoirs of a scientist who has traveled throughout the world to study and defend endangered species.
The lesson makes use of a book called Tigerland and Other Unintended Destinations by Eric Dinerstein (Island Press, 2005). This book was one of the winners of the 2007 AAAS/Subaru SB&F Prize for Excellence in Science Books (you can read about this prize at: Book Award). Each chapter, according to the author, illustrates an important theme in conservation biology.
Conservation biology is interesting to study because it is a relatively new discipline that provides a picture of the impact that human activities have had on the natural world. Unfortunately, much of this recent impact has resulted in the loss of species and habitat. Yet, in Tigerland, Dinerstein argues that “the combined efforts of people working on behalf of conservation proves the point that against enormous odds, a single individual can make a difference in the world if he or she embraces the cause of safeguarding the future of the planet’s millions of species so dependent on us for survival.”
To prove his point, Dinerstein presents a series of autobiographical chapters about his experiences in the wild and unique places of the world: Nepal and Costa Rica, New Caledonia and the Galápagos Islands, Venezuela, Tanzania, and even Montana. Each essay is enjoyable as narrative, with the author recounting his encounters with people and efforts to preserve wild places and wild things. Each chapter is unique, too, as the author addresses the critical issues associated with wildlife and wild lands conservation today—protection for endangered species, the protection of habitats, the destruction and fragmentation of habitats by humans, and, finally, the restoration and repopulation of ecosystems—all key concepts and each fundamental to an understanding of how conservation really works. The reader will emerge with a broad perspective of what is involved in conservation today and how a few dedicated individuals have made (and are continuing to make) a difference.
Conservation Biology has two main emphases. One is conserving endangered species. This involves such things as studying the demographic and genetic consequences of small population size, conducting population viability analysis, studying the biology of small populations, applying manipulative techniques to enhance the survival probability of endangered species, and designing nature reserves for particular species. The other focus of conservation biology involves conserving the function and structural aspects of important ecosystems. This includes efforts to preserve the diversity and stability of ecological communities through strategies such as habitat fragmentation, landscape ecology, island biogeography, and restoration ecology.
This lesson is written so that each student will need a copy of the book Tigerland and Other Unintended Destinations. New and used copies are available at online bookstores such as Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble.
The Education and Teaching page of the Society for Conservation Biology’s website contains links to a variety of resources that can help to provide background information and tips for teaching conservation biology to students of various ages.
To begin this lesson, ask students to use their Tigerland student esheet to go and listen to an interview with Tigerland author Eric Dinerstein. In the interview, he discusses some of the ideas in the book. After students have listened to the podcast, the class can discuss questions such as the following:
- What is the significance of the subtitle of the book?
- How did experiences with other people influence the author? How was he inspired?
- What messages does the author have for readers?
Students should then use the esheet to go to the Conservation Biology FAQ page of the Society for Conservation Biology, where they will briefly acquire some background knowledge about the work of conservation biologists. As they are reading this page, students should write down the definitions of these terms: biodiversity, genetic diversity, species diversity, and ecosystem diversity.
The rest of the lesson will mostly consist of out-of-class activities. Students should read the book and prepare a reading log, found on the Tigerland student sheet, that should be collected by you and graded. After they have finished reading the book, students should write a brief essay.
Before students read the book, however, you can suggest that they first look at the SB&F Book Club Guide: Tigerland and Other Unintended Destinations. This guide provides information on what the book is about, the author, reasons why they should read it, and questions to think about as they read it. You can either direct students to go to the guide online or you can provide them with print-outs of the two-page guide.
The reading log for this lesson is a variation of a double-entry note log. But rather than having students select passages to highlight in their log that strike them as significant, this reading log will focus students on looking for four different types of passages that will help them to form their ideas around the main themes of the book. See How Can I Retain Information From My Sources? -- Using Double-Entry Notes if you are not familiar with this note-taking strategy.
To prepare students for filling out the log, it would be a good idea to model the activity for them. A sample log can be found for the Introduction on the Tigerland Sample Reading Log teacher sheet, along with background information on double-entry notes. The sample log has been filled out for the Introduction of the book. You can ask students to read the Introduction of the book in class (it is brief, only 10 pages long) and then go over the sample log with them, answering any questions that they have.
Then have the students continue to read the book on their own, filling out the logs for each chapter as they go along. You also may want to check students’ notebook entries after the first chapter to ensure that they are taking substantive notes. If time allows, you can have brief classroom discussions following the completion of each chapter. This will be particularly helpful with younger students. You can also divide the class into small groups of students to discuss the chapters and share their observations on the reading log.
If you choose, you can culminate the lesson by collecting the reading logs and assessing them according to the guidelines found below. If you feel it is appropriate for your class, you can also have students write a brief essay on one of these topics:
- What are some ways that humans can impact biological diversity?
- How do conservation biologists investigate human impacts on biological diversity?
- What are some practical approaches that can promote human development without threatening biological diversity?
- What are some economic and ethical arguments for preserving biological diversity?
- What are the major threats to species described in the book?
Instructions for writing the essay can be found on the third page of the student sheet.
Assess the reading log using these criteria:
- Student has an entry for each chapter of the book.
- For each chapter, student has included a passage from each of the four required categories.
- The passages chosen for each category fulfill the criteria for selection.
- Student reaction responses are thoughtful and substantive.
A well-researched and well-written essay should contain all of these elements:
- A clearly stated main idea that makes clear the essay’s purpose.
- A complete answer to all parts of the question.
- Evidence of a full and complete understanding of the topic they have selected.
- Pertinent, accurate, and cited supporting details from the book or from other sources that are adequate to support the main concept.
- A properly cited bibliography that includes all of the references used to write their essay.
HabitatNet is a website designed to enable teachers and students to establish permanent biodiversity monitoring projects around the globe and use telecommunications to communicate their investigations, findings, and questions regarding biodiversity issues and management.
Conservation Magazine Teaching Tools contains study resources and discussions to facilitate the use of Conservation Magazine in the classroom.