Ecosystems: Recycle and Cycle

Do you have any advice for creating bottle ecosystems with my seventh grade class? I would like them to do two-tier systems with terrestrial and aquatic organisms.

—S., Missouri

Students can learn a lot when they create these micro-habitats in plastic bottles with plants and invertebrates. The bottles can be stacked to form interdependent aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems. I’ve collected some resources in the NSTA Learning Center ( with more information.

Start the project by going over the different types of ecosystems and organisms. To get the organisms, you can sample a pond, flip over rocks and even visit a pet store before “build day.” I always kept a stock of these year-round in terraria and aquaria in my classroom. After spending a class researching the organisms available, students create a “shopping list” of the materials they need to add in their ecosystem. Have students bring in the two-liter bottles or ask colleagues for donations. Spend a class building the ecosystems and starting seeds of fast-sprouting plants like oats, radishes, greens, and alfalfa. Some students may want to use samples from an aquarium in their aquatic ecosystems. Have them explain why in their journal. A fleece wick between the lower, aquatic ecosystem to the upper, terrestrial ecosystem will facilitate water movement. In a few days the plants will sprout and students can add the invertebrates

Have the students write journal entries at least twice a week and stress accurate observations. If available, use oxygen and carbon-dioxide sensors as part of their data collection. Bio-geochemical cycles, pyramids and food chains/webs that depict their bottles can be incorporated into their journals.

I love bottle ecosystems and so did my students!

Hope this helps!


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