This group activity demonstrates the interconnectedness of various components of the natural world as well as the part that humans can play in adding stress to the balance of the system.
Materials: A large ball of string; a series of 3-by-5 index cards (web of life resource cards) each with the name of a plant, animal, or natural feature. The web of life resource cards can include any variety of plants, animals, and natural features. Here are some examples: soil, downed log, standing dead tree (or “nurse log”), pine tree, oak tree, pond or stream, grass, wildflowers, fish, frog, snake, robin, blue jay, woodpecker, coyote, turtle, hawk, raccoon, ground squirrel, deer, dam, field mouse, lizard, cricket, butterfly, mosquito, ants, bees, etc.
Method: One leader/moderator is needed to manage the activity as well as to assist in passing the string ball back and forth in the
group. Arrange the group into a circle and hand a 3 x 5 card to each participant. Make certain to include the soil, a water feature, and at least one dead component in the cards that you hand out.
Begin the activity by starting with the soil, as that is the foundation for all forms of vegetation. Have the “soil person” hold one end of the string and then look at all of the available cards and determine who has a direct connection to the soil. A direct connection is defined as needing or using that particular organism or feature for food, shelter, habitat, support, or some other lifecycle need. As each of these persons (cards) is named, run the string ball to that person and back again. Repeat this for every direct connection as you work your way through all the participants/cards.
Then choose another person/card and repeat the process, again using only direct connections. Try to work up the food chain with the activity to help illustrate that a lot of the smaller or less glamorous creatures and organisms play a key role in the balance of the natural ecosystem and that those creatures/organisms at the higher end of the food chain have fewer, but more direct connections into the system balance.
Utilize the dead system components (dead logs, standing dead trees, etc.) relatively early on in the process to establish that the ecosystem’s foundation is composed of both living and nonliving components.
Once the web has been woven and those creatures/ organisms that reside at the top of the food chain have been incorporated, ask the group to evaluate who has the most connections (done by counting the number of strings in their hands) and who has the fewest connections. See if the group can generate any discussion about why
that number of connections exists.
Start to walk into the middle of the string web, gently creating a tension on several of the string connections. The resulting pressure can be related to the presence of humankind’s impact on the ecosystem. Ask the group who is feeling the stress or harder pull on their string from the action of the leader, and discuss why that part of the natural world might feel the stress.
Randomly select a member of the circle to leave, signifying the death or removal of that species/organism from the natural system; make note of how many direct linkages or connections are severed. Discuss the effects of this action from both a direct-effects viewpoint as well as an indirect-effects viewpoint.
Finally, relate the interconnectedness of the natural world to the principles of Leave No Trace as a foundation for further exploring each principle.