Aquatic Invasion

    Aquatic Invasion

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    To understand the properties of invasive species and learn about aquatic invasive species and their effect on aquatic ecosystems.


    In this lesson, students will choose one aquatic invasive species, investigate its life history, distribution, and possible solutions or management practices to control the species and/or its impacts. From this information they will create an “unwanted” poster to engage local citizens and help them understand the importance of controlling the organism.

    See discussion questions that provide additional background information and some leading questions to help guide discussions about aquatic invasive species.

    The lesson is designed in four parts:

    1. A classroom activity to familiarize students with the aquatic invertebrates they will be collecting;
    2. a field activity where students explore an aquatic system to determine the presence or absence of aquatic invasive species (see "Field Activity" for tips on preparing for a water related field activity);
    3. follow up STEM activities, discussion, data analysis, and presentation of results;
    4. and watershed connections.

    Materials Needed:

     *  Click here for information on purchasing equipment or supplies or creating your own equipment.  Contact USU Water Quality Extension ( or 435-797-2580) for information on borrowing equipment.

    Classroom Activity:class activity

    Part 1:   
    1. Define the term aquatic invasive species. (Aquatic invasive species are non-native to a given ecosystem and whose introduction causes, or is likely to cause, harm to the economy, the environment, or human health) Talk about why invasive species are a threat to native species in a given ecosystem. See 
    discussion questions #5 and #6.

    2. Give students examples of invasive species or as a class, visit the USDA National Invasive Species Information Center to discuss the profiles of invasive species. For a list of aquatic invasive species in Utah, visit the Utah Aquatic Invasive Species Management Plan.

    3. Ask the students if they are aware of any aquatic invasive species in their watershed.  Ask them about  possible ways the invasive species were introduced into the watershed. Be sure to inform them of the human activities which often introduce aquatic invasive species to an area (see background information for help with this discussion)

    Part 2:

    1. Explain to the students they will be researching an aquatic invasive species and creating an "unwanted" poster to help educate others.

    2. You can separate the students into small groups or have students work individually.  Assign each group (or student) a specific aquatic invasive species that is present in your state.  See the USDA National Invasive Species Information Center for a list of aquatic invasive species in the US. See the Utah Aquatic Invasive Species Management Plan for a list of aquatic invasive species in Utah.

    3.  Have students use the Internet or other resources (academic journals, university professors, state agency professionals, etc) to research their assigned invasive species. As they complete their research, students should fill out the research worksheet citing sources app.

    4. Each group (or student) will then make a creative, informative poster of their invasive species using the information from their research worksheet. This can be done on the computer or with art supplies. Example of a poster can be found here.

    5. After the posters are completed, each group (or student) should share their poster in a brief presentation. Additionally, the posters can be displayed within the school or community to educate others on aquatic invasive species within your state.


     Note:  As a review, play Aquatic Invasion! Board Game with your students.

    Prepare for Field Activity:

    Proper preparation, before entering the field, is important to class safety. Follow the links below for tips for thorough preparation.

    Field Activity:field activity

    1.  Set up observation areas using flagging tape, or other visible markers, near a local water body (stream, pond, lake, or wetland). Each area should cover a different habitat type (e.g. in stream pool, in stream riffle, riparian, flood plain, etc). You will need to provide kick nets and plastic tubs for in stream habitats. Demonstrate how to sample with a kick net.

    2.  Ask the students to look around and observe what activities take place at the field trip location (e.g. camping, boating, fishing, hiking, etc).  Ask students how these activities can facilitate the spread of invasive species (for example, when people boat in multiple water bodies without disinfecting their boat the likelihood of spreading invasive species increase).

    3. Divide students into groups of 4-5 and provide each with a map of the area and an aquatic invasive species field guide. Assign each group an observation area.

    4. Have the students canvas their observation area (if might be helpful to set up quadrants to do this). They should record on their map the location of any aquatic invasive species they find. If time allows, have students rotate through observation areas.


    Note: It is likely that the students will not find an invasive species; however, this is an opportunity to reinforce Best Management Practices (BMPs) in their fieldwork (e.g., properly disinfecting).

    STEM Activity:


    The following are suggestions to help students gain a better understanding of aquatic invasive species.

    1. Compare student observations with animated maps on the USGS Nonindigenous Aquatic Species information resource (vertebrate and invertebrate species only). Students can also report the invasive species they find on the USGS sighting report form.

    2.  Use GPS units and GIS software to create aquatic invasive species distribution maps (create a free, public account with ArcGIS here). By doing this year after year, students can compare their maps with maps from previous years.

    3. Have the student's enter their observations onto a national citizen science website. The following sites record observations that people report from areas around them.

    4. Have students create an outreach campaign for the community based on their posters of the aquatic invasive species. This can include tips and suggestions for the prevention of introduction and spreading of aquatic invasive species.

    5. Have a guest speaker from an agency implementing invasive species action plans or with knowledge and experience on invasive species come speak to the class.    

    Watershed connections  

    Watersheds are natural outdoor laboratories. Use the map below to find the watershed you teach in. Use the watershed connections in the Stream Side Science lessons to learn how you can use specific stream locations, local data sources, local contact and other information in your area to make the Stream Side Science experience more relevant to your students.   

    What watershed do you live in?

    If you live in Utah, the map below shows all of the watersheds that either drain into or out of Utah. OR go to Surf Your Watershed to locate your watershed anywhere in the U.S.


    Curriculum and Teacher Materials 

    Core Alignments by Grade: 

    6th Grade:

    7th Grade:

    8th Grade:

    High School: