Introduction to ecosystems
Introduction to ecosystems

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Introduction to ecosystems

3 Identifying organisms

Identifying organisms inhabiting a particular ecosystem can be difficult. You are encouraged to do just that, using the iSpot website to help identification. Chris Packham introduces you to iSpot.

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Ecosystems and diversity - a practical activity

The Open University's iSpot is a great website. It's not only about phenology, noting seasonal markers. It's about general wildlife observations too and it's great fun. So, basically, if you are out and about and you come across something that's unusual in your area, or you can't identify, all you do is take a simple photograph of it - doesn't have to be a work of art - just a clear, concise photograph which you then upload to the site. Simply log-on to It really is quick and easy to register. And once you've done it, you're ready to add your own exciting findings to the database and find out what everyone else is talking about. To upload a photo, just click on Add an Observation. Using the form provided, fill in as much information as you can about your find. The more specific you can be, the better. But if you're not sure what it is you've seen, just ask the iSpot community for their thoughts. You can even use the integrated map facility which allows you to pinpoint exactly where you took your photo. And that's all there is to it. Within a very short space of time, someone will have probably got back to you with an answer. This iSpot turned out to be a banded snail and within hours someone even deduced it might be a juvenile proving the site really does work. And it doesn't have to be just about identifying things either. If you see something that you're genuinely really excited about. Particularly if you're able to grab a picture and upload it. Then this is a great place to communicate your enthusiasm because the community that uses the site is there to do so. You'll get whole streams of people interacting about topics from all over the country. It's a place also - I've got to say - where you can learn a lot, as well. And the more people that sign up, get involved, and add their observations the better the site will become. It will slowly build up into an incredibly rich resource telling us lots of things about the wildlife in the UK. Some of which might help that wildlife in the future. So do everything you can to get involved. It's great fun.
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Discovering and identifying the organisms that inhabit a particular ecosystem is obviously a crucial stage in working out the interactions that form the food chains and routes of energy flow within the ecosystem. Identification can be difficult but there are online resources available to help. In this practical activity you are encouraged to go and look at animals, plants or fungi in a habitat that is easily accessible to you, photograph them if you can, and use the iSpot website to get help in identification. You will need to register with the iSpot website, but registration is free.

Try and find four different organisms living in a habitat near you and suggest the place that they might occupy in an ecosystem. For example, these could be birds, insects, plants or fungi.

Ideally, for each you should take a photograph and upload it to iSpot [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] . You will find instructions on how to do this in the iSpot guidance document.

If you live in a region of the world where the climate is seasonal, you could look for organisms that are characteristic of the season of the year.

The Great British Year poster covers the British seasons and suggests organisms to look out for each month.

For any observation that you upload you can see if an interaction with another species has been recorded. You can also record an interaction that you have observed. For example, a photo of a butterfly might be linked to a particular food plant. Using the interaction feature on iSpot enables you to begin to construct links within an ecosystem.

Be sure to tag your contribution as #oueco, so that you can connect with observations made by others on this course. Finally, you can contribute your observations to the iSpot discussion forum and see how they compare to the observations and deductions that you have made.

  • Are the four organisms that you have observed linked to each other?
  • Can you make any links to other people’s observations?

You do not have to stop at four observations, of course, and hopefully you will feel encouraged to take more photos and identify them using iSpot.

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