Jean Neukomm and Danielle Peters
Terrarium Habitats Project
By: Jean Neukomm and Danielle Peters
Selected Grade: 4th
Soil, or dirt, is composed of weathered
rocks, air, water and the decayed remains of dead animals and plants.
The organisms living in the soil help to decompose organic matter and
play an important role in the nutrient cycle. Students may have an
aversion to getting dirty but they will want to dig right into this
science project and create a terrarium habitat in order to observe the
decomposition of soil.
The creation of a terrarium habitat
allows students to explore a process that goes on just under their feet.
Students walk on an important cycle of life without being aware of its
importance. Initially, students will create the floor of a forest
habitat, in the terrarium, with leaves, bark, birdseed and dirt.
Living organisms such as a small plant, pill bugs, and earthworms
will be put in the terrarium. The students will be able to
observe changes in the soil as decomposition takes place over a period
This terrarium habitat contains
decomposers, which are organisms that help recycle nutrients from
organic material. The organic material, after it dies, is made available
for plants to use by the decomposers. Bacteria, in the soil, decompose
dead organic matter and convert it to nutrients, which become available
as food for plants. Fungi works along with bacteria in breaking
down organic matter found throughout the soil. Earthworms help
fertilize and encourage other micro-organisms to do the same by
decomposing dead organic matter in the soil. The nutrients are taken
from the soil by the plants and passed on to herbivores, or plant
eaters. The carnivores eat the plant eaters. The organic material from
each of these groups, upon dying, is again made available to plants with
the help of decomposers. This continuous cycle begins when the plant
roots absorb the nutrients broken down by the decomposers. A terrarium
habitat provides students with a view and understanding of this cycle.