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Science City at Home

Finding Life That Creates Soil

Many things in nature are cyclical. There’s the water cycle, the rock cycle, the cycle of seasons, the cycle of a 24 hour period, and so much more. One cycle that is often overlooked is the soil cycle. The soil cycle is crucial for life on earth. Nutrients from soil are essential for producer, or plant, growth. Producers are eaten by primary consumers, or herbivores. This continues along the food chain with the next organism eating the previous one, moving up through secondary consumers, tertiary consumers, etc. until you reach an organism that is not preyed on by anything else, the apex predator. At every step on this chain, the organisms are part of the soil cycle. Whether it is providing nutrients up to the next level, dying without being eaten and becoming part of the soil more immediately, or producing waste which makes its way into the soil. However things do not just magically turn into soil, there are complex interactions between multiple organisms that help to decompose, or break down, compounds and turn them into the earth beneath our feet. Fungi, bacteria, and invertebrates are major decomposers and play a key role in the soil cycle.

We are going to investigate some decomposers, specifically the invertebrates that live in and help leaf litter to break down and slowly turn into dirt. To do that we must first build a Berlese funnel. Entomologists, or people who study insects, commonly use this tool and it can be made using just a few basic materials. There is a holding chamber for your leaf litter, with an opening and collection chamber at the bottom. When a light is placed at the top of the chamber, the invertebrates living in the leaf litter move away from the light, and eventually emerge out the bottom and into your collection chamber. Let’s get to it!


· Plastic bag

· Scissors

· Mason jar

· Mesh wiring

· Access to old leaves

· Lamp

· Hanger

· 1 cup of water

· Small bowl