2.2 Understanding the plant communities
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Contrasting riparian communities. Murrumbidgee River near Canberra (left). Photograph: Luke Johnston Castlereagh River at Coonamble (right). Photograph: Bill Phillips
Curriculum Alignment

14, 19, 20 

Years K-6: Science and Technology, HSIE, Creative Arts
Years 7-10: Agriculture, Visual Arts, Geography, Science, Technics 
Years 11-12: Agriculture, Earth and Environmental Science, Biology, Geography, Information Technology, Society and Culture, Visual Design

SOSE, Science, Geography

Futures, Interdependence, Thinking

Science, Thinking Processes, Geography

Students begin to learn about the complex interdependencies of river bank plant communities
Students understand why introduced species often gain a competitive advantage in plant communities

2-3 hours

Materials required
>Riparian Rummy Cards – directions for how to make these are provided below along with the instructions for how to play
>Tree and Wildflower Field Guides
>Homework sheet – Community partnerships form (see below)

Based on Save the Murray Factsheet # 14
Native plants provide important environmental benefits including reducing bank erosion and increasing the abundance of other native plants and animals. 
Native plants are often the best environmental stabilisers and repairers because they are naturally adapted to local conditions such as soils, land form and climate and can help maintain a healthy ecosystem balance.

The lands’ vegetation cover is never static, especially over the longer term. The Australian continent has been subject to various climatic changes, not least those associated with the most recent Ice Age, all of which resulted in significant changes to the vegetation. To such evolutionary changes must be added those resulting from the thousands of years of Aboriginal occupation.
Since the arrival of Europeans the impacts on native vegetation have been both widespread but also highly intensive in many locations. Land clearing on a massive scale has taken place replacing diverse native vegetation with agricultural landscapes, non-native forests and urban areas, leaving fragmented and isolated pockets of native vegetation. 

Studies have indicated that over 52 per cent of the native vegetation in Australia’s ‘intensive land use zone’ (which includes much of the Murray-Darling Basin) has been cleared for agricultural and other purposes. Many native plants and animal communities have been replaced by introduced species. Some species have suffered severely by European land clearing practices and are now rare or extinct.

Native vegetation is under threat from a number of factors, including:
>Rising salinity levels in the rivers and saline seepage from water-tables on or near the floodplain. This is partly due to land clearance practices in the Murray-Darling Basin and grazing on the river edge in the past.

>Changes to the historically important flooding and drying river flow regimes necessary for natural regeneration events (this is a result of the construction of locks and weirs) and over-allocation of water resources in many rivers.

>Increases in human impacts associated with recreational activities along rivers including camping and associated soil compaction, firewood collection, boating and associated bank erosion, undercutting of vegetation along banks, clearance of reed-beds to provide access to the river and unsympathetic development of land adjacent to the river. 

>Spread of woody weeds, especially willows.


Lesson plan
1. In the classroom begin with discussion on what comprises a human community. Encourage students to think about their street, neighbourhood, school, city, state, country and the global community.

2. Identify what humans need to live as defined by; “will we die if we don’t have ___________________?” Discuss interdependence in the human community using questions such as “What if we didn’t have farmers to produce our food or roads on which to transport the foods?”

Be sure
students include
the four components
of a habitat: water, air,
energy, shelter.

3. Map out on the board what a native plant community along a river might need and provide. 

4. Ask students to consider additional potentially negative components of a habitat that can affect a plant community, such as predation, disease, drought, human activities, and competition with introduced species.

5. If possible, ask them to consider local areas that are infested with weeds. Do students have any thoughts initially about the level of plant diversity (the range of species) at such sites. 

6. Divide the students into groups of four and introduce them to the game ‘riparian rummy’. Explain that they need to be looking as they play the game for the emergence of introduced weed communities. Point out to them that they will soon be visiting some of the plant communities in the cards.

7. After playing the game ask the students what groups they found emerged most commonly. Was there an advantage in playing for community quality over quantity in terms of scoring? 

8. Field component. Have the students describe the different natural areas (get them to look for groups of plants or associations) they can see along their nearby river, stream or wetland. 
Ask them (working in pairs) to investigate what types of plants are growing there. Are there trees, shrubs, wildflowers, grasses or aquatic plants? Make a list of the characteristics which those plants share. For example, are the plants tall or short? Do they have deciduous or evergreen leaves? Are they woody or herbaceous?

9. Get the students to describe the most dominant plant species in the natural area chosen? Are the dominant plants native species? What are the types of wildlife that might use this plant community? What habitat components are there in each plant community identified?

10. After 30 minutes bring the students together to discuss their results. 

11. As a group, with one person drawing, have the students map the vegetation communities they can see and have identified. 

12. Discuss as a group what changes could be made to improve the local plant communities they have identified.

Have the students research the historic native plant community upon which their school is built. 
If feasible, have them research and develop a native garden on the school grounds based upon their research.

Secondary pathway
With a GPS or Google Earth, and GIS mapping programs, have students survey and map native plant communities along a part of the nearby river or stream.


Before starting, either obtain photographs to illustrate each vegetation type, or have each student take one, research it, and sketch it on the card.

The initial dealer is chosen randomly. The deal then proceeds clockwise. Seven cards are dealt to each player. The dealer then puts the rest of the deck, face down, between the players. This forms the stock pile. A single card is then drawn and placed face up next to the stack. This is called the discard pile.

Play begins with the player on the dealer’s left and proceeds clockwise. Each player draws a card from the stock or the discard pile. The player may then meld (lay cards that form a sequence in front of them) or lay off (place a card to join a meld already on the table) which are both optional, before discarding.

If a player has three cards of the riparian community (called a sequence or a run), they may meld by laying these cards, face up, in front of them. Melding is optional. A player may choose, for reasons of strategy, not to meld on a particular turn. 

Special Cards
Green Cards: Green cards are native plant species. There are 3 for each riparian plant community. Be sure to add an additional distinguishing colour to the green native plant cards to show each riparian community.

White Cards: White cards are weedy species.

Grey Cards: Grey cards are not part of any riparian community, but rather are inhibitors to community growth. Discarding a grey card FORCES the next player to discard a green native species card. If the following player has no green cards, they may not discard at all.

Blue Cards: Blue cards are ‘water’ cards. Water makes everything grow, and thus act as a wild card. Water cards plus two cards from the same riparian community may be melded.

Stealing and Playing off
Once a player has melded, they may steal melded water cards if they have the appropriate replacement card, or lay down cards that play off another player’s meld

Finally, after any melds or lay offs, the player must discard a single card to the discard pile, face up. This must be a green card if a grey card has been formerly discarded.

The End of the Stock
If, while playing, the stock runs out, the next player may choose to draw from the discard pile or to turn the discard pile over to form a new stock. The discard pile is not shuffled in the process. After forming the new stock, the top card is drawn to form the new discard pile, just like after the deal.

Going Out
When a player has gotten rid of all of their cards, they win the hand. 

After a player goes out, the hand ends, and the players count up their cards. The winner of the hand receives 20 points for winning.
Players add up the cards they have down and subtract from that sum the sum of the cards still in their hands.
Blue Cards: 50
Grey Cards: -20
Green Cards: 10
White Cards: 5
The first player to reach 500 wins.