Tabletop Biosphere

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In this activity, learners create a sealed, mini ecosystem that supplies freshwater shrimp with food, oxygen, and waste processing for at least three months. Learners will collect water, amphipods, and sludge containing microscopic copepods and ostracods from a local pond. Learners will add the pond samples to a jar of nitrate-poor fresh water and aquatic plants and animals. They can observe their mini biosphere in action over the succeeding months.

Quick Guide

Preparation Time:
4 to 24 hours

Learning Time:
1 to 12 months

Estimated Materials Cost:
Over $20 per student

Age Range:
Ages 8 - 18

Resource Types:
Activity, Field Trip


Materials List (per student)

  • glass canning jar (1-quart)
  • plastic container or clear bottles, for sampling and a “holding tank”
  • tap water
  • small river rocks ( just enough to cover the jar bottom)
  • tap-water dechlorinator
  • aquarium ornaments or other glass or ceramic obstacles
  • kitchen strainer or fine fishnet
  • freshwater minerals (such as “Kent Freshwater” or “cichlid salts")
  • amano shrimp (a.k.a Caridina multidentata)
  • snails (4)
  • hornwort (8 stem inches, Ceratophyllum demersum)
  • duckweed (2'' x 2'' piece, a.k.a. Lemna)
  • calcium carbonate (1 tablespoon)
  • amphipods (8)
  • pond sludge (1 or 2 Tablespoons, containing copepods and ostracods, bacteria, microalgae, etc.)


  • Earth and Space Science
    • Earth Structure
      • Oceans and Water
      • Biosphere
  • Life Sciences
    • Diversity of Life
      • Plants
      • Animals
      • Viruses and Bacteria
    • Ecology
      • Ecosystems
      • Energy Flow and Chemical Cycles
  • The Nature of Science
    • The Scientific Process
      • Conducting Investigations

Informal Categories

  • Animals
  • Nature and Environment
  • Outdoor Activity


To use this activity, learners need to:

  • see
  • be mobile
  • touch

Learning styles supported:

  • Involves hands-on or lab activities


Components that are part of this resource:

This resource is part of:

Access Rights:

  • Free access


  • Brown, Martin John


  • All rights reserved, Make Projects, 2011