Kickstarter Campaign Strives to Protect the Arctic Ecosystem
Last month Arctic sea ice declined to the fourth lowest summer ice extent in the satellite record, continuing the trend in ice loss. To help bring home the impacts of Arctic ice loss, as an Arctic scientist and environmental educator I teamed up with Real-World Impact Games Lab Director Joey Lee to create EcoChains: Arctic Crisis.
EcoChains: Arctic Crisis is a fun and easy-to-learn card game for ages 10 and up that challenges players to strategically manage the Arctic marine ecosystem as climate changes. Through EcoChains: Arctic Crisis, players learn about the reliance of some species on sea ice, and the potential impacts of future changes on the ecosystem.
Players connect species cards to build food chains. Events occur that can disrupt or destroy food webs, such as through the melting of sea ice. But players can protect species in their food web by playing action cards, like ”Protect a Species” or "Alternative energy," which support resiliency for a diverse ecosystem.
We have played the game with hundreds of people—and it works with families, schools (it is aligned with Next Generation Science Standards) and game night with friends.
Here are comments from two recent players:
“I was amazed by how interconnected the entire system of Arctic species are, and realized how much would be affected by just a few minor changes.”
“I certainly felt an adrenaline rush as I kept the possibility of a major disaster impacting my web at the forefront of my mind to strategize the best possible food web combination.”
EcoChains: Arctic Crisis is a project of the PoLAR Partnership. As part of its mission to advance innovative approaches to climate change education, the PoLAR Partnership conducted an experimental study on the learning benefits of EcoChains. Research that we’ll be presenting at the American Geophysical Union annual meeting in December shows that new information is “stickier” when gained through game play than through traditional approaches.
At EcoChainsGame.com, you can learn more about this great project and even contribute to its early development now through Oct. 30. Through our Kickstarter campaign, we’re raising support for a larger print run that will decrease production costs and therefore make the game more accessible to wider audience, including schools and teachers. All Kickstarter proceeds go towards production and development. Early supporters will be among the first to receive a copy of this innovative new educational resource.
Stephanie Pfirman is the Hirschorn professor and co-chair of the Environmental Science department at Barnard College, a member of the Columbia Earth Institute faculty, and an adjunct senior research scientist at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. She leads the Polar Learning and Responding to Climate Change Education Partnership.
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By Aaron W Hunter
A chance discovery of a beautifully preserved fossil in the desert landscape of Morocco has solved one of the great mysteries of biology and paleontology: how starfish evolved their arms.
The Pompeii of palaeontology. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<h2></h2><p>Although starfish might appear very robust animals, they are typically made up of lots of hard parts attached by ligaments and soft tissue which, upon death, quickly degrade. This means we rely on places like the Fezouata formations to provide snapshots of their evolution.</p><p>The starfish fossil record is patchy, especially at the critical time when many of these animal groups first appeared. Sorting out how each of the various types of ancient starfish relate to each other is like putting a puzzle together when many of the parts are missing.</p><h2>The Oldest Starfish</h2><p><em><a href="https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/216101v1.full.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Cantabrigiaster</a></em> is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. It was discovered in 2003, but it has taken over 17 years to work out its true significance.</p><p>What makes <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> unique is that it lacks almost all the characteristics we find in brittle stars and starfish.</p><p>Starfish and brittle stars belong to the family Asterozoa. Their ancestors, the Somasteroids were especially fragile - before <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> we only had a handful of specimens. The celebrated Moroccan paleontologist Mohamed <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.palaeo.2016.06.041" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Ben Moula</a> and his local team was instrumental in discovering <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0031018216302334?via%3Dihub" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">these amazing fossils</a> near the town of Zagora, in Morocco.</p><h2>The Breakthrough</h2><p>Our breakthrough moment came when I compared the arms of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> with those of modern sea lilles, filter feeders with long feathery arms that tend to be attached to the sea floor by a stem or stalk.</p><p>The striking similarity between these modern filter feeders and the ancient starfish led our team from the University of Cambridge and Harvard University to create a new analysis. We applied a biological model to the features of all the current early Asterozoa fossils in existence, along with a sample of their closest relatives.</p>
Cantabrigiaster is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<p>Our results demonstrate <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> is the most primitive of all the Asterozoa, and most likely evolved from ancient animals called crinoids that lived 250 million years before dinosaurs. The five arms of starfish are a relic left over from these ancestors. In the case of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em>, and its starfish descendants, it evolved by flipping upside-down so its arms are face down on the sediment to feed.</p><p>Although we sampled a relatively small numbers of those ancestors, one of the unexpected outcomes was it provided an idea of how they could be related to each other. Paleontologists studying echinoderms are often lost in detail as all the different groups are so radically different from each other, so it is hard to tell which evolved first.</p>
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