TerrAqua Eco-Column




     What is an ecosystem? As one of the most encompassing levels of organization in the living world, an ecosystem is defined as a community of organisms along with their physical environment. The Eco-Column is designed to model an ecosystem on a small scale. Its components include a terrestrial habitat with a compost unit, and an aquatic habitat. This system provides opportunities to understand how energy is brought into the living world and transferred through food chains, and how the living and nonliving environments are intimately connected through cycles of matter.

     What common substance falls from the atmosphere, flows through our bodies, runs through the soil beneath our feet, collects in puddles and lakes, and then vaporizes back into the atmosphere in a never-ending cycle? The answer is water, as it cycles between land, ocean and atmosphere, forms the major link between the terrestrial world (involving anything living on the earth) and the aquatic world (involving anything living on or in the water).

     Water drips off rooftops, flows over roads, off your toothbrush, and down the drain, percolates through the soils of fields and forests and eventually finds its way into rivers, lakes and oceans. During its journey, water will pick up leaf litter, soil, nutrients, agricultural chemicals, road salts and gasoline from cars, all of which have profound impacts on life in aquatic systems. Water can also be filtered or purified as it percolates through soil.

     The TerrAqua Eco-Column provides you with a model to explore the link between land and water. The model has three basic components: soil, water and organisms (plants and/or animals). By varying the treatment of just one of these components you can explore how one variable can affect the whole system.  The hypothesis is that if a model of an ecosystem can be built, then one can observe interdependence in an ecosystem.







Stock Table:


Seeds: ie Herbs, Flowers, Alfalfa, Grass, etc..

40 lb (18 kg) Bag of Top Soil

Cotton Clothesline/Nylon Rope

Large Spoons and/or Measuring Devices

Box Cutter or Scissors (Sharp Point)

Metric Ruler

Straws (pre-cut into 1/3rds)


Drill (Drill Bit or Awl) – pending wick size


Group Responsibilities: Groups of 2-4  


1 Clear and Cleaned 2 Litter Soda Bottle with Cap

1 Cup of Aquatic Gravel or “Very Small Stones / Pebbles”


Optional: Pond Water (clean and ~ 1/2 a Liter)

                Terrestrial Animals and Aquatic Plants/Animals

                Note: See Plant and Animal Suggested List

                Note: Best to get any organisms about 1-2 days after the Eco-Column has been built



Note: Other Eco-Columns can be created/suggested by you – just confirm prior to construction




1.      Gather all necessary materials for this activity.


2.      Drill a hole in the bottle cap while still on bottle (may have been done already).


3.      Remove any labels from the bottle and cut bottle ~ 2/3rds from the bottom.


4.      Cut ~ 20 cm length of rope/wick. Thread rope through the bottle top, invert the top, and set the top into the “base”.  The bottom of the “wick” should reach the bottom of the reservoir and thread loosely through the cap.


5.      Remove the top with the cap/wick and fill the reservoir with enough gravel to just cover the bottom and then add enough water (optional: clean pond water) until the reservoir is about 1/3rd full (or just enough to touch the “cap”).


6.      Return the top with the cap/wick to its inverted position again.


7.      Add a little bit of gravel and then enough soil to cover the wick/rope and fill the top chamber most of the way (you may be asked to go outside or a designated place; tba). To be effective, the wick should run up into the gravel and soil and not be plastered along the side of the bottle. Also, use a small straw between the top and bottom reservoir to provide air to the bottom water reservoir.


8.      If your top is slipping into the water reservoir, ask for tool to create 2-3 holes and use paper clips to clamp the top to the top of the reservoir.


9.      Label your project with your name(s) and place your Eco-Column in a designated area and maintain its growth and health (pick up from the bottom).


10.  After about 1-2 days, add your organisms (seeds or already brought plants/animals). Be sure to add water and take care of any organisms as necessary during the allotted time.


11.  Please clean and return all materials.  The Result/Data sheet will need to be completed after the designated time (to be announced) is up for observing and maintaining your eco-column.


Reference: Hunt, K. (n.d.). Bottle biology. Retrieved from http://bottlebiology.org/index.html






Plant and Animal Suggested List

(Common and Scientific Names)

May Have to Visit Local Pet Store or a Local Pond / Lake / Ground / Soil

Be Aware to Supply Food for Those Organisms that Need Nutrients


Terrestrial Level: Animals

Note: Have a mesh covering if necessary

Earth worm Annelida  

Sow (pill) bug Arthropoda  

Snail Mollusca  

Slug Mollusca  

Insect Arthropoda   

Mite Arthropoda  

Beetles Arthropoda  

Ants Arthropoda  

Crickets Arthropoda  


Terrestrial Level: Plants (if No Seeds)

Mosses Bryophyta  

Heartwort Ricciocarpus

Spikemoss Selaginella

Kalenchoe Kalenchoe

Fast Plant Brassica  

Liverwort Marchantia

Grasses Anthophyta  

Pine seedling Pinus

Resurrection fern Polypodium



Aquatic Level: Animals

Betta fish (recommended fish)

Wheel snail Gyralus

Orb snail Heliosoma

Pond snail Amnicola

Seed shrimps Ostrocoda  

Ghost shrimps Ostrocoda  

Water fleas Cladocera, Daphnia

Copepods Copepoda , Cyclops

Flatworms Dugesia

Mosquito fish Gambusia  Must be small (<5cm)


Aquatic Level: Plants

Dwarf hairgrass Eleocharis

Hornwort Ceratophyllum

Star Grass Herteranthera

Pigmy chair sword Echinodorus

Egeria Egeria

Milfoil Myriophyllum

Duckweed Lemna

Wolfiella Wolfiella

Wolfia Wolfia

Salvinia water fern Salvinia

Riccia Riccia

Azolla water fern Azolla

Clover-leaf fern Marsilea

Grass-leaf Sagittaria

Green algae Cladophera Algae (Protist)