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  • Writer's pictureJenna Granger

Backyard Biodiversity

Updated: Feb 17, 2021

An exploration of the variety of living organisms in your own backyard

Grade Level:



Life Science

  • Interrelationships in Ecosystems

  • Diversity of Live in Different Habitats

Earth Science

  • Bio-geology

  • Human Impacts on Earth’s Systems

Engineering & Design

  • Using Models to Represent Relationships in the Natural World

Tools & Materials

  • Science notebook or paper

  • Pencil, pen and colored pencils

  • Smart phone with SEEK App by iNaturalist (free) or a Field Guide of Sierra/Tahoe Plants & Animals

To Do & Notice

1. Question: How many varieties of plants, animals, birds, bugs and insects are living in your yard? How many of each type? Or, what is the biodiversity of your backyard?

2. Make a Claim:

Start by focusing on plants: How many species of plants do you think you have in your yard? 5? 10? 15?

3. Prepare:

Key Terms

  • Biodiversity: all the different kinds of life you will find in one area, including animals, plants, fungi, bacteria, and genetic material

  • Ecosystem: the living (plants, animals, other organisms) and nonliving (air, water, soil) components of an area that interact with each other in an interconnected way

  • Habitat: a natural environment in which plants and animals live, breed, and get their food, water, and shelter

Four Main Factors of Biodiversity

  • The number of different types of species (composition)

  • The number of individuals of each species (abundance)

  • How spread out the individual species are (distribution)

  • How many of these species are threatened or endangered (extinction risk)

4. Collect Data:

  • Create a Map! Draw a birds-eye view (as if you were a bird looking down) of your backyard or area of study. Watch Ashley Phillips explain how to get started in this video Backyard Biodiversity Map

  • Start by adding landmarks to your map.

  • Then add trees. Include the location of each tree by adding a circle to your map. You can use larger circles to represent bigger trees and smaller circles to represent smaller trees.

  • Use the SEEK APP (or a Field Guide) to identify the different tree species in your backyard.

  • Create a color key. Assign each tree species a different color. Go over your circles with a dark pen and color in the circle with colored pencil being sure to use the same color for the same species. Write down the name of each species you find in the corner of your map and indicate the color. See the image at right as an example.

  • Tally how many of each tree you have next to the color key.

  • Bonus: Go beyond trees! Add shrubs, wildflowers, and other native plants to your map. You can even add animals, birds, insects that you see. Use the SEEK APP to identify them. Be sure to use different shapes & colors to indicate different species.

5. Analyze and Interpret Data

  • How many species do you have living in your backyard or area of study? Was your claim correct?

  • How would you evaluate the biodiversity in your area? Do you have a wide variety of species?

  • What characteristics does the area have that support species living there? Sunshine? Water? Space? Etc…

  • What do you think affects biodiversity?

  • What could you do to increase the biodiversity of your yard?

6. Communicate Findings:

  • Post photos of your biodiversity map on social media and tag us @sweptahoe on Instagram and/or to @swep4 on Facebook. Be sure to hashtag and follow #SWEPsnippets. If you cannot post directly yourself, send SWEP your biodiversity grid photos (

  • Take photos of the plants and animals you see and upload them to the iNaturalist app (a citizen science app that compiles data on native species) to share with an even bigger community of naturalists!

What’s Going On

Why is biodiversity important?

  • Biodiversity supports everything in nature that we need to survive. Food, raw materials, fresh water, and medicine come from nature.

  • Nature can take care of itself!

  • Nature regulates air quality, climate, water, erosion, waste treatment, pollination, and disease.

Where is biodiversity at its greatest?

  • Forests are filled with biodiversity. One square kilometer of forest may be home to more than 1,000 species.

  • Soil biodiversity consists of a huge underground community of life such as fungi, bacteria, ants, termites, earthworms, moles, and many more. One-quarter of all life on Earth can be found beneath our feet!

  • The ocean covers more than two-thirds of our living planet’s surface and is home to a wide variety of ecosystems and wildlife. About 90% of life in the ocean is found in the shallow seas close to the coasts.

  • Freshwater habitats such as lakes, rivers, and wetlands are home to more than 10% of all known animals and almost 50% of all known fish species.

How do humans affect biodiversity?

  • Humans have upset the balance of ecosystems and biodiversity through farming, over-harvesting, building, deforestation, wildlife trade and the effects of climate-change.

  • 87% of wetland habitat has been lost in the past era.

  • Almost 20% of the Amazon rainforest, one of the most biologically diverse places in the world, has disappeared in the past 50 years.

Can this be fixed?

  • Biodiversity can come back. If humans plan and adapt to healthier and more sustainable practices. In time, ecosystems will heal.

  • In nature, everything is connected. The ripple effect of any change touches every part of our planet. In order for both people and wildlife to thrive, now and in the future, we need a healthy planet with a rich variety of plants and animals and healthy ecosystems.


  • Look over this Living Planet Report - A Guide for Young People from the World Wildlife Fund for a world wide look at biodiversity.

  • Watch this Netflix/World Wildlife Fund Our Planet Documentary with David Attenbourough.

Going Further

How can you increase the biodiversity in your backyard? Plant more native species! here is a list of healthy plants for our Tahoe region:

Partake in a collective biodiversity art project!

  • On an index card draw, color and explore what biodiversity means to you.

  • Take a closeup photo of your finished card and send it to and we will put it in a collective mosaic with all of the art cards we receive!

Take the Seek App Challenge: Citizen Science Challenge

  • Open app

  • Click on Challenges

  • Find the Citizen Science Challenge

  • Complete the mission: find 10 new species you have not observed yet.

  • Earn a badge!

Thank you to our many partners for supporting student's science, sustainability and outdoor learning experiences.

Please review SWEP's Terms of Use prior to using this resource.



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