Investigating Evidence for Mass Extinctions Lab
Animals and plants disappear all the time as extinction is a natural part of life. About 98% of all the organisms that have ever existed on our planet our now extinct. When a species goes extinct, its role in the ecosystem is usually filled by new species, or other existing ones. Earth’s “normal” extinction is rate is often thought to be somewhere between 0.1 and 1 species per 10,000 species per 100 years. But when species vanish much faster than they are replaced, this is known as mass extinction. It is usually defined as about 75% of the world’s species being lost in a “short” amount of geological time which is less than 2.8 million years.
At least five mass extinctions have been recorded throughout Earth’s history. The vast majority of plant and animal species have been annihilated in a geologic instant five times. What triggered these dramatic events? What might they tell us about the fate of Earth? In this laboratory activity, you will explore an online simulation that will allow you to investigate the different evidence for mass extinctions.
Mass Extinction Activity Learning Objectives:
At the end of this laboratory activity, students are expected to:
- Explore the Earth Viewer online simulation to be familiar with different geologic events
- Identify evidence for mass extinctions based on the biodiversity before and after the extinction
Download the Evidence of Mass Extinction Labs Sheets:
Mass Extinction Lab Materials:
- Computer or mobile device with Internet connectivity
Mass Extinction Lab Procedure:
- Work with a partner for this activity.
- Launch and explore the features of EarthViewer: https://media.hhmi.org/biointeractive/earthviewer_web/earthviewer.html
- Click, hold, and drag to rotate the planet.
- Click, hold, and drag down the horizontal silver slider on the timeline. Then, watch what happens to the planet and the data indicators as you move backward and forward in time.
- Position the silver timeline slider at 0 MYS (top of the timeline). Click on the left “play” button at the bottom of the timeline; watch what happens. When the silver bar stops at the bottom, click on the right “play” button and watch again.
- Position the silver timeline slider at 0 MYA. Click on “Charts” at the bottom of the screen. Choose a chart. Now, click on the left “play” button at the bottom of the timeline. Watch what happens on your chosen chart as the slider moves down the timeline.
- Click “pause” before the slider reaches the bottom of the timeline. Note that your chosen chart will show a demarcation in the data for that point in time.
- Close your chart in EarthViewer by clicking on the “X” in the upper right-hand corner.
- Make sure the timeline displays 0–540 million years and then click on “View” at the bottom of the screen; turn on “Mass Extinctions.” Click “View” again to minimize the menu.
- Note the five yellow triangles that appear on the right side of the timeline. These correspond to mass extinctions.
- Gather Data: Drag the slider to the Ordovician extinction, 440 MYA. Use the EarthViewer features to fill in the following chart. For Biodiversity, you will need to move the slider carefully and record the number of marine genera present just before and just after the extinction event. Gather data in the same manner for the remaining four mass extinctions.
Investigating Evidence for Mass Extinctions Lab Activity:
Students record their predictions and results of the lab activity. Once the activity is finished, discuss the lab activity and answer post-lab questions.
We also provided some of the Resources below for you to use in class. iTeachly Members can access all the content for the activity and the following lesson.
Students must come up with a unanimous answer for each question. Discussing the answers usually, results in some excellent dialogue on this topic.
Here is your Free Content on Mass Extinction!
Mass Extinction - PDFs
- 4-4 Assignment SE - Mass Extinction (FREE)
- 4-4 Assignment TE - Mass Extinction ( Members Only )
- 4-4 Bell Work SE - Mass Extinction (FREE)
- 4-4 Bell Work TE - Mass Extinction ( Members Only )
- 4-4 Exit Quiz SE - Mass Extinction (FREE)
- 4-4 Exit Quiz TE - Mass Extinction ( Members Only )
- 4-4 Guided Notes SE - Mass Extinction (FREE)
- 4-4 Guided Notes TE - Mass Extinction ( Members Only )
- 4-4 Lesson Plan - Mass Extinction ( Members Only )
- 4-4 Online Activities - Mass Extinction ( Members Only )
- 4-4 Slide Show - Mass Extinction (FREE)
Mass Extinctions Worksheets - Word Docs & PowerPoints
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Want Access to Everything in the Earth's History Unit?
Unit 4 – Earth's History
- 4-1 The Formation of Earth
- 4-2 Geological Time Scale
- 4-3 Early Life on Earth
- 4-4 Mass Extinction
- 4-5 Climate on Prehistoric Earth
- 4-6 Types of Fossils
- 4-7 The Fossil Record
- 4-8 Relative and Absolute Dating