NGSS Standard MS-LS2-3:
“Develop a model to describe the cycling of matter and flow of energy among living and nonliving parts of an ecosystem”
Many students are familiar with a food web model that demonstrates how matter and energy are transferred throughout ecosystems. In the Brainy Briny kit, students are able to see for themselves the producers, consumers, and decomposers all working in their roles interacting within the ecosystem. Students can note the algae, brine shrimp, and decomposers working together in cycling matter throughout for one healthy ecosystem!
The basis of a food web is the primary producers. The phytoplankton algae that the students see grow are the primary producers in this ecosystem. A producer is an organism that can make new energy. The phytoplankton in this ecosystem are using nutrients in the water along with carbon dioxide to capture light energy and create new biomass through photosynthesis. The new nutrients they create are used for their energy and growth. Producers are incredibly important as they serve as the basis of the food web and give off oxygen as a byproduct of their photosynthesis.
Moving up the food web, you come to grazers. Grazers are organisms that eat primary producers, and in aquatic environments phytoplankton like algae serve as a primary food source for grazers. Brainy Briny is an Artemia zooplankton grazer. Zooplankton are small, heterotrophic organisms that feed off phytoplankton and other zooplankton. Because they are heterotrophic, the survive off of the organic carbon produced through photosynthesis in the algae. They have the ability to get way more nutrients from producers than humans can. When the zooplankton defecate or die they release nutrients, inorganic carbon, that could benefit the ecosystem.
Decomposers are needed in ecosystems to take the nutrients from dead plants and animals and recycle them into usable nutrients for the producers. The inorganic nutrients that the Brine shrimp and dead algae leave behind is taken by the bacteria and fungi in the environment and changed into useful nutrients for the algae to use in photosynthesis. Although you may not specifically add these biomass recyclers to your kit, the bacteria and fungi that fill this role are everywhere and are naturally in the ecosystem.
The completeness of an ecosystems biodiversity is a good indicator of the health of an ecosystem. In the Brainy Briny ecosystem, the role of the producer is filled by the algae, consumers played by the Brine shrimp, and the decomposers are there as always, playing their vital role. The Brainy Briny kit offers students a great opportunity to see for themselves the transfer of energy throughout the ecosystem and how the producers, consumers, and decomposers all play an important role in helping the ecosystem.