Introductory Activity

How Do You Use the Denver Metro Area?

(Modified from Ecosystem Matters: Activity and Resource Guide for Environmental Educators, edited by P. Corsetino, Forest Service Rocky Mountain Region, 1995)


Inquiry Question: What is ecosystem diversity?

Student Objectives:

1. Students will be able to describe at least one personal demand they have individually placed on a DMA (Denver Metro Area) ecosystem.

2. Students will be able to demonstrate the effects of growing human populations on available natural resources, using real examples.

3. Students will be able to describe the importance of conserving natural ecosystems and maintaining ecosystem diversity.

Map Use Objectives:

1. Use the DMA Ecosystems map to identify the types of ecosystems in the 9-county DMA that are (1) broadly described and (2) described in more detail.

Geography Standards: 3.2, 4.5, 5.1

Science Standards: 3.1, 5

Background Information:

This activity is an introduction to biodiversity in the DMA. It is designed to get students thinking about how they can conserve biodiversity by maintaining natural ecosystems in the rapidly developing DMA. The more people that live in an area, the greater impact they have on the natural environment. People build homes and roads, use water, recreate, etc. All of these activities impact natural ecosystems by removing, polluting, or fragmenting them. However, careful planning before developing can prevent large scale destruction, degradation, and fragmentation of natural ecosystems. Rethinking how we use ecosystems can help maintain our natural environment. A good example of how local people and organizations in the DMA are attempting to do this is the Chatfield Basin Conservation Network (see glossary). Development in the Chatfield Basin is being accompanied by maintenance of natural ecosystem diversity. This is a new way of looking at planning and one that is well suited for maintaining biodiversity in growing metropolitan areas. The DMA is the sixth fastest sprawling major metropolitan area in the United States.

There are also ways to restore disturbed ecosystems to a more natural state. Again, the more people who put an effort into protecting and restoring natural ecosystems, the greater the positive effect on biodiversity conservation. Each unit that follows this introductory activity addresses a key concept and question about biodiversity. There are four maps that help with these units and give students a visual understanding of the area in which they live. Although the area of concern is the DMA, many of the activities can be at least partly applied to other parts of Colorado.

Purpose: An introductory activity to help students understand how they use ecosystems in the DMA.

Time and Location: 40 minutes – 1 hour in the classroom


4 different colored sponges cut into eight pieces

4 cups

Clear glass or plastic wide mouthed bowl Masking tape

Container to put sponges in once wet

Ecosystem map of the DM A


1. Each color sponge represents a type of ecosystem in the DMA. Blue represents lakes, reservoirs and wetland/riparian, green is coniferous/mixed forest; pink is grassland; yellow is shrubland.

2. Fill the four cups with water. Tell the students the four cups are the four types of ecosystems in their natural state. Pour the cups into the container. The container represents the DMA. Mark the waterline with masking tape.

3. Discuss with the students how we use the ecosystems in the DMA. Have them look at the map. For example, water in reservoirs and lakes is used for drinking, irrigation, recreation, etc.; Coniferous Forest is used for logging, homes, roads, and recreation. Plains Wetland/Riparian ecosystems are used for recreation, irrigation, agriculture and sometimes homes, although floodplain regulations help to discourage the latter. Grassland and Shrubland are used for agriculture, homes, roads, recreation, and urban centers.

4. Ask students, one at a time, to name a personal demand they made on one of the ecosystems during a recent week. Have each student come up to the bowl and take a sponge that represents one of the four ecosystem types. As they are telling the class how they used the ecosystem, they place a piece of sponge in the container. Have them take out the sponge and squeeze the water into another container. Place the sponge back on the table. After a couple of students have done this, ask them if there is any change in the water level. After the whole class has taken turns, point out the dramatic change in the water level. Help students understand that the demands of a lot of people often have more effect than the demands of a few people on ecosystems.

5. Ask the students: What is happening to land in the DMA? How can we give back to an ecosystem? (help establish conservation areas, help maintain a conservation area, ride your bike instead of driving, pollute less, live closer together, use less water, etc.) How can we maintain the ecosystems in the DMA? Could we make the land just like it was before it was disturbed? Pour the squeezed water back into the main bowl. Ask: Why doesn't the water come back to the top again, even when we try to conserve the land and resources? Remember that even when we disturb the land, it is better to give back. The land is in a better state then if we just take from the bowl and never give back.


1. Have students determine their “ecological footprint” (the amount of acres needed to support their lifestyle). Visit the web site to calculate their footprints.

2. Show pictures of natural, seminatural, and nonnatural ecosystems in the DMA. Have students classify them and then discuss why they are considered natural, seminatural, or nonnatural. (See glossary for definitions of natural and seminatural ecosystem.)