NY Harbor Populations Investigation



Class Periods




Subject Areas



Students expand on their food web by making connections to habitats that the organisms live in.


  • Interpret and recreate a map of New York City.

  • Make connections between habitats and the organisms that frequent them.

  • Go beyond food webs in their consideration of the connections within an ecosystem, particularly considering habitat and abiotic factors.

Materials and Resources


  • Two kinds of string OR silly string OR shaving cream (or a combination)

  • Documents within the Species ID folder on Digital Platform Dashboard

Before you get started

Tips for Teachers

Some ideas for this lesson came from the Welikia Project and what they call a Muir Web.


All Cards should be printed and laminated.

Instruction Plan


  1. Students get back into their pairs from the Food Webs lesson and review the food web they sketched.

  2. Pairs get together in small groups and discuss: What could we add to this “web” to make an even more complete model of all the different ways that the organisms rely on each other and on their environment?  

  3. Each pair creates one new Food Web Card using guide books and Species ID resources and any other resources provided.

  4. Ask the whole class: What could we add besides other types of organisms?  Make a list.


Go outdoors.  Bring extra paper and species ID information, in case a group has an idea to add a new element (that’s not on one of the Cards) to their Habitat Web.

  1. Create a Map of NYC

    • Each pair gets a Geography Card and a Map of New York City. (Make sure that every Geography Card gets used even if you have to give a pair more than one card.)

    • Explain: The whole class needs to work together to figure out how to place the Geography Cards on the ground so that they resemble the map. (See Geography Card Sample Layout for one example of how it can be done.)

    • Once all the Geography Cards are laid out like a map on the ground, circle up the class up around it.

  2. Overlay Habitats onto the Map of NYC

    • Each pair gets one Habitat Card.  You may pass out more than one of the same Habitat Card, but each pair must have at least one card.

    • Ideally pairs discuss and decide where to place the Habitat Cards on the map based on their personal experiences and knowledge.  

    • If students need help, use the Habitats and Shorelines document as a resource for guidance.

    • Students place Habitat Cards on the ground.

  3. Connect Organisms to Habitats

    • Each student gets at least one Food Web Card.  

    • Using the information on the back of each Food Web Card, students put the card on the ground near the Habitat Card they think fits it best.

    • Each pair gets string (or, if you think students can handle it, silly string or shaving cream)

    • Pairs use the string to connect their Food Web Cards to the best fit habitat and any other habitats that are relevant.

  4. Connect Organisms to Each Other

    • Each pair gets a different type/color of string.

    • Pairs use string to draw some important connections between organisms.  This is similar to the Food Webs lesson.


  1. Circle up class around their Habitat Web.  

  2. Specifically revisit top carnivores, detritus, and bacteria.  Discuss how these things are connected to the rest of the web in terms of both energy transfer and matter cycling (e.g. bacteria helps cycle matter of dead organisms back into the sediment.)

  3. Explain: Matter doesn't easily arrive at or leave the Earth, whereas energy is constantly flowing into the Earth system from the Sun and, at the same time, out into space as heat.

  4. Each student gets a Dissolved Oxygen and Salinity Requirements handout and looks it over.

  5. Choose a dissolved oxygen or salinity level and ask students to remove the organisms from the food web that would be adversely affected by this level.  

  6. Discuss how this removal of organisms would affect other parts of the Habitat Web.

  7. There are lots of connections to be made and questions to be asked here!  Solicit questions and curiosities from the students and keep track of them for their small tanks work on populations study later in this Investigation.


NGSS - Cross-Cutting Concepts

  • Cause and Effect

    • Cause and effect relationships may be used to predict phenomena in natural or designed systems.
    • Phenomena may have more than one cause, and some cause and effect relationships in systems can only be described using probability.
    • Cause and effect relationships may be used to predict phenomena in natural systems.
    • Relationships can be classified as causal or correlational, and correlation does not necessarily imply causation.
  • Energy and Matter

    • The transfer of energy can be tracked as energy flows through a designed or natural system
    • The transfer of energy can be tracked as energy flows through a natural system.
  • Influence of Engineering, Technology, and Science on Society and the Natural World

    • All human activity draws on natural resources and has both short and long-term consequences, positive as well as negative, for the health of people and the natural environment.
  • Patterns

    • Graphs and charts can be used to identify patterns in data.
    • Graphs, charts, and images can be used to identify patterns in data.
  • Stability and Change

    • Stability might be disturbed either by sudden events or gradual changes that accumulate over time.
  • Systems and System Models

    • Models can be used to represent systems and their interactions.
    • Models can be used to represent systems and their interactions—such as inputs, processes and outputs—and energy and matter flows within systems.

NGSS - Disciplinary Core Ideas

  • LS1.A: Structure and Function

    • Within cells, special structures are responsible for particular functions, and the cell membrane forms the boundary that controls what enters and leaves the cell.
  • LS2.A: Interdependent Relationships in Ecosystems

    • Growth of organisms and population increases are limited by access to resources.
    • Organisms, and populations of organisms, are dependent on their environmental interactions both with other living things and with nonliving factors.
  • LS2.B: Cycle of Matter and Energy Transfer in Ecosystems

    • Food webs are models that demonstrate how matter and energy is transferred between producers, consumers, and decomposers as the three groups interact within an ecosystem. Transfers of matter into and out of the physical environment occur at every level. Decomposers recycle nutrients from dead plant or animal matter back to the soil in terrestrial environments or to the water in aquatic environments. The atoms that make up the organisms in an ecosystem are cycled repeatedly between the living and nonliving parts of the ecosystem.
  • LS2.C: Ecosystem Dynamics, Functioning, and Resilience

    • Ecosystems are dynamic in nature; their characteristics can vary over time. Disruptions to any physical or biological component of an ecosystem can lead to shifts in all its populations.

NGSS - Science and Engineering Practices

  • Analyzing and Interpreting Data

    • Analyze and interpret data to provide evidence for phenomena.
  • Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions

    • Construct an explanation that includes qualitative or quantitative relationships between variables that predict phenomena.
  • Engaging in Argument from Evidence

    • Construct and present oral and written arguments supported by empirical evidence and scientific reasoning to support or refute an explanation or a model for a phenomenon or a solution to a problem.

NYC Science Scope & Sequence - Units

  • Grade 6, Unit 4

    • Interdependence