Testing Soil from an Abandoned Field for Future Secondary Succession

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Updated on Jan 17, 2014

Grade Level: 4th - 6th; Type: Life Science


Ecological succession is the natural process of the introduction and development of living things into an area. In an area where there is no soil, the process is called primary succession. In an area where soil already exists, such as an abandoned field or forest after a fire, the process is called secondary succession. The research aspect of this science fair project is to test soil taken from an abandoned field to predict future secondary succession.

Natural damp soil from an abandoned area will be placed in a large bowel and sealed with plastic wrap, and then placed in a sunny window. For a week or two observations will be made of the soil looking for new plant growth. If new plants are seen growing in the soil they will be recorded and analyzed. From the results of the observations and analysis a data table will be produced and a graph plotted. The practical application of data gained from this study will be the ability to predict if the abandoned field will undergo secondary succession.

  • What is the project about?
  • What are the goals?

Questions for Background Research

  • What is ecological succession?
  • ecological succession? • What is the main difference between primary and secondary succession?
  • What kinds of plants sprouted in the model of secondary succession?
  • What kinds of plants sprouted in the model of secondary succession? Were the plants that sprouted in the bowl unusual or common for the area?
  • Explain how the plants that grew in the model of secondary succession can be pioneer species.
  • From the type of plant(s) that developed in the model what was most the dominate plant in the area before it was abandoned?
  • From the data gained from the model what are the possible stages of secondary succession that will take place on the abandoned field sometime in the future, if left undisturbed?

Ecological succession is the gradual development of communities of living organisms over time. Often a series of stages is observed during succession. Primary succession occurs in an area that was not previously inhabited by living things; no soil is present. Secondary succession occurs in an area where an earlier community was disturbed by fire, landslides, floods, plowing for cops, land excavation for road of building constructions, etc.

The main difference between primary succession and secondary succession begins with the formation of soil. Secondary succession begins on preexisting soil, such as when an existing community is disrupted by natural disaster or by farming. Pioneer species in primary succession are usually lichens, which begin the formation of soil. Pioneer species in secondary succession are usually seed plants, which germinate and take root in the soil.

*A eutrophic pond will eventually fill with sediment. First aquatic plants will grow. When the pond is completely filled, the area will undergo secondary succession.

  • Any required diagrams/pictures (Pictures speak a thousand words!)

A series of stop-action digital photos can be taken over the course of the succession investigation also the following sites offer down loadable images that can be used on the display board




http://mrswolfgang.wikispaces.com/file/view/yay_ven_diagram.png/75839849/ yay_ven_diagram.png


Empty coffee can, large clear plastic or glass bowl, water, clear plastic wrap, and soil taken from an abandoned field also, an optional digital camera.

With the exception of the soil all of the items for this project are available locally at most major retail (Wal-Mart, Target, Dollar general, etc) discount department stores also, a Tri-fold cardboard display board can be purchased from an art & crafts supply store.

A test soil sample can be gathered from an abandoned field, cleared construction area, bank of a eutrophic pond*, cleared or vacant farmland, or a vacant city lot.

  • What materials are required?
  • Where can the materials be found?

Experimental Procedure

Name of abandoned field from which soil sample was taken:
Succession Days Number of Plants Seen General Observations

  1. Scope up a sample of soil using an empty coffee can or other large container from an abandoned field, cleared construction area, bank of a eutrophic pond, cleared or vacant farmland, or a vacant city lot.
  2. Place the natural soil brought from the abandoned area into the large bowl, and dampen the soil with water.
  3. Cover the top of the bowl with plastic wrap, and place the bowl in a sunny window.
  4. For 2 weeks, observe the bowl for any new plant growth. Describe and count the number of plants observed.
  5. Record these and all other observations in the table similar to the one shown.
  6. Using graph paper or a computer equipped with Excel® visually display the data in the table by plotting a bar or line graph showing the number of plants verse days of succession.
  7. The time (days) is displayed along the horizontal axis and the number of plants seen growing if any (population), is displayed along the vertical axis.
  8. Note: Do not allow the soil to dry out and using a pair of tweezers remove areas of mold that may develop inside of the bowel.

Terms/Concepts: For the parent/student, what terms and concepts are required to better understand the project?; Ecological succession, primary succession, secondary succession, pioneer species, eutrophic pond;


References to related books

Title: Ecological succession

Authors: Frederic P. Miller, Agnes F. Vandome, and John McBrewster

Publisher: Alphascript Publishing ISBN-13: 9786130235949 and ISBN: 6130235941

This book is about ecological succession and offers a comprehensive discussion on primary and secondary succession. The young investigator and his or her parents (teachers) can use this book as a general reference resource.

Links to related sites on the web

Title: Ecological Succession


Title: Primary and Secondary Succession

URL: http://www.buzzle.com/articles/primary-and-secondary-succession.html

Title: Facts about Secondary Succession


Title: Ecological Succession


NOTE: The Internet is dynamic; websites cited are subject to change without warning or notice!

Mike Calhoun is a consultant for the National Science Teachers Association, a veteran science teacher, and hosts an online science website. Over the years Mike has studied trends in science, education, and finance, conducting research, developing programs, and writing articles on these topics.

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