Sierra Nevada Ecosystems Lesson Packet
- July 27, 2020 -

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Learn about the ecosystems of the Sierra Nevada through this lesson.

Get this lesson: You can download the full packet here or read a condensed version of this unit below.

Worksheet: Download just the worksheet or there’s a copy included in the packet.


An ecosystem is a biological community of interacting organisms and their physical environment.  Scientists have classified 8 major ecosystems on Earth called Biomes, which encompass smaller ecosystems. The Sierra Nevada mountains are within the temperate coniferous forest biome.

The Sierra Nevada also includes different vegetation zones, from montane forests to subalpine and alpine zones all determined by elevation. Ecosystems are dynamic and continually changing through time.


The Sierra Nevada ecoregion harbors one of the most diverse temperate conifer forests on Earth displaying an extraordinary range of habitat types and supporting many unusual species. Fifty percent of California’s estimated 7,000 species of vascular plants occur in the Sierra Nevada, with 400 Sierra endemics and 200 rare species.  

Ecosystems are dependent on a balance of producers and consumers. The producers are at the base of the energy cycle using photosynthesis and chemosynthesis to make their own food, omnivores and carnivores follow. Decomposers finish the cycle. At each level only 10% of energy is passed on, the other 90% is lost as heat.   


Video resources:

The Cost of Ecosystem Change: The Sierra Nevada Bighorn Sheep – A talk with field biologists studying declining Bighorn Sheep populations

High Elevation Forest Monitoring in the Sierra Nevada – A discussion on forest health and efforts to preserve it by the National Park Service

Sample Research Project:

Project: Sierra Nevada food web activity

Methods: Examine the interactions between animal and plant species in the Sierra Nevada by charting their interactions with one another and labeling them producer, consumer, scavenger, or decomposer.

Sample research questions: 

  • What happens to the population of one species as another declines?
  • Can consumers live without decomposers?
  • What happens to the population of scavengers as consumers decline?

NGSS Standards:

MS-LS2-3; MS-LS2-4 Ecosystems: Interactions, Energy, and Dynamics

HS-LS2-6; HSLS2-7; HS-LS2-8 Ecosystems: Interactions, Energy, and Dynamics

SEPs: Analyzing and interpreting data
Constructing Explanations and designing solutions
Planning and carrying out investigations
Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information
Systems and system models

CC: Cause and effect
Stability and change


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