Students Invent a Game That Teaches About Conserving Species

Environmental studies students Joe Pike and John Peckham designed a board game for their conservation biology class that, in a practical way, illustrates a continuing debate in the field. In order to protect a diversity of species, is it better to preserve many, smaller reserves or to preserve fewer but larger tracts of land?

Pike got the idea from a class handout that showed an algorithm for selecting ecological reserves. “It wasn’t well-adapted for classroom demonstration, so I decided to come up with my own system.”

The two students used Pike’s Lord of the Rings version of the board game Risk, designating the orcs, trolls, archers, and other plastic playing figures as species and assigning them points. Each team designs conservation reserves according to one of the two approaches. The team with the most points wins.

“I was hoping that people would be able to have a visual and hands-on understanding of how the ‘single large or several small’ debate could play out or be applied in real life,” Peckham said. “I was also interested in stimulating some debate or conversation on the issue.”

“We wanted people to have an appreciation for the data collection, calculation, and strategy involved in designing ecosystem reserves,” Pike said.

The student players got a taste of what it would be like to manage a reserve. “If you were managing this landscape, what would be most important to you?” said Beth Kaplin, core faculty member in the Department of Environmental Studies, who teaches the class.

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