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Bark beetles and rainfall at the Arizona Science Center

Curriculum materials help middle school teachers and students use data to predict bark beetle outbreaks.

Bark beetles and rainfall at the Arizona Science Center

Flickr photo by vsmoothe

Students, by taking part in citizen science projects, can report valuable observations to help scientists better understand the impacts of climate change. To help students themselves see changes over time, and what those changes might have to do with climate... that calls for interpreting data.

What has happened to the trees pictured here? Through an inquiry-based curriculum, developed by Dianne McKee and colleagues* at the Arizona Science Center, middle school students are inspired to investigate why trees are dying in the northern part of the state. Prompted by emails from a (fictitious) fellow student on a Student Ranger program, classrooms explore photos, graphs, and maps that tell the story of bark beetle outbreaks and rainfall trends across Arizona.

Here's the story in brief: a "perfect storm" of warmer winters and decreased snow/rainfall has allowed a native beetle to spread, taking a toll on the oldest pine trees that are weakened by overcrowding and years of drought. Check out some of the data for yourself, from the Bark Beetles in Arizona curriculum materials.


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But students aren't just looking back in time. Comparing these records to patterns of bark beetle outbreaks, classrooms are asked to predict when and where another outbreak might occur (what kinds of conditions land managers should look out for).

To help students tune in to current conditions, the curriculum also contains an optional lesson on phenology and citizen science, with links to Project BudBurst and the National Phenology Network. Given the role drought has to play as a predictor of beetle infestations, classrooms might also want to check out CoCoRaHS (the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail, & Snow Network) or the University of Arizona's own program.

*Putting together these historical data was a real partnership effort, and relied heavily on research performed by Tom DeGomez, Forest Health Specialist, School of Natural Resources at the University of Arizona, and Arizona educators Diane Godfrey, Sheila Nice, Amy Larson, and Karen Schedler.

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