This web site explores the concept of ecological synergism. Consider this:

Disturbances, like diseases, hurricanes, fires, and earthquakes, all occur naturally. They play an integral role in ecosystem development and evolution of all living organisms. Some of these natural disturbances occur frequently, while others happen only periodically. Natural disturbances can also take place on a local scale, as well as impact the entire world. In each case, the earth and its inhabitants respond and adapt in order to survive.

But what happens when these natural ecological disturbances are compounded by each other and by human activities? How has the synergistic effects of the individual events impacted the ecosystem and its inhabitants? Which factors are responsible, and how is that determined?


There are four case studies featured here that explore the concept of ecological synergism. Each case focuses on the declining population of a marine organism at different locations around the world, and arises from real scientific research.

The challenge for you is to:

  1. identify the major factors that contributed to the population decline,
  2. determine how these factors compounded each others' impact, and
  3. recommend actions for restoration, prevention, or management.

There is a "situation" scenario for the four case studies to help put each investigation into context. The challenge is the same for each case study, but the information and outcomes vary considerably. Data on potential factors are provided for each case study. Use the information to help make your connections and formulate your line of logic. There will be "connecting prompts" throughout each case study to help stimulate the thinking process. These will be indicated in orange. Good luck!


This website contains more than just pages of information. There is an overall task for students to do while they explore the concepts and contents presented here. The design and structure of this website is based upon learning theories from Benjamin Bloom, Jean Piaget, David Ausubel, and Joseph Novak.

Students work in pairs or teams to accomplish the task. Each case study is placed within a real life context. The challenge is for students to read the information, analyze the data, synthesize their thoughts, and make evaluations and judgements based on their constructed understanding. Graphs and tables give students a chance to conduct real scientific research. The connecting prompts are provided to help facilitate this process.

Be challenged by the concepts and contents presented in this website. There is a lot of information presented here. Don't just read through the information like a textbook. The purpose is not for you to memorize the contents, but to understand the concepts by making connections between the information provided.

Some of the data is presented as text, while others are in the form of graphs, tables, and diagrams. Use the information provided to come up with your own understanding and line of reasoning. The connecting prompts are provided to help you make connections and to get you thinking. There may be more than one answer to those prompts, so be inquisitive in your thinking.


This website was designed to address the competency goals in the following science strands for Grades 9-12 in the state of North Carolina:

Competency Goal 4 The learner will develop an understanding of ecological relationships among organisms.
Competency Goal 5 Students will develop an understanding of the behavior of organisms, resulting from a combination of heredity and environment.
Earth & Environmental Sciences
Competency Goal 4 The learner will build an understanding of the hydrosphere and its interactions and influences on the lithosphere, the atmosphere, and environmental quality.

4.06 Evaluate environmental issues and solutions for North Carolina's wetlands, inland, and tidal environments:
* Floodplains.
* Fresh and brackish water marsh.
* Estuaries.
* Barriers.
* Inlets.

Competency Goal 7

The learner will build an understanding of alternative choices facing human societies in their stewardship of the earth.



  1. Understand ecological relationships among organisms and their environment.
  2. Evaluate real environmental issues and generate solutions.
  3. Learn to analyze and interpret graphs and tables from scientific research.


  1. Paine, T., M. Tegner, & E. Johnson (1998). Compounded perturbations yield ecological surprises. Ecosystem, 1: 535-545.
  2. Jackson, J. et al. (2001). Historical overfishing and the recent collapse of coastal ecosystems. Science, 293: 629-636

This web site was created by Lynn Tran at the North Carolina State University, Department of Mathematics, Science, and Technology Education on 7/12/03. Faculty advisor Dr. David Eggleston, NCSU, Department of Marine, Earth, & Atmospheric Sciences. Last updated December 29, 2003 .