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In: Journal of Natural Resources and Life Science Education, Vol. 33, 2004


Soil is a complex habitat for diverse biota. A significant challenge in teaching soil ecology is our inability to observe organisms as they live and interact in the soil. The objective of this article is to describe an interactive class project to help students visualize the sizes of different groups of soil organisms and to relate these to soil structural components. This project was carried out by students in an upper-level undergraduate soil ecology class. It involved the design and construction of a 4000× scale model of a soil aggregate and its associated organisms. The body of the model was made from inexpensive, lightweight materials and had a diameter of approximately 1 m to depict a 0.25-mm aggregate. Students identified and discussed appropriate size ranges and construction materials for the model’s bacteria, fungi, nematodes, mites, springtails, and other components. Instructor-guided questions addressed size and arrangement of sand, silt, and clay particles; pores; and organic matter in a typical soil aggregate. The model is a useful tool for conveying physical and ecological relationships among soil organisms and is adaptable for use at diverse educational levels.