The Buffalo War

presented by ITVS

Lesson Plan Lessons: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4

Buffalo Biodiversity: Is it Important?

9th or 10th grade biology

Materials Needed
Extension Activities
Correlation to National Standards


This lesson looks at biodiversity that occurs both between and within species, by examining characteristics of the students themselves, of a population of peanuts, and of buffalo. It concludes with an assessment of the value of such variation.

Estimated Time: two 90-minute blocks

Lesson Objectives:

Students will
  • Interpret information from the video "The Buffalo War" through a series of discussion questions.
  • Measure and graph characteristics in student and peanut populations.
  • Research facts about bison characteristics.
  • Evaluate the need for biodiversity within Yellowstone's bison herd.
Materials needed:
  • VCR and TV
  • Internet access
  • Rulers
  • Peanuts

I. To generate ideas for class discussion, start with this True/False quiz to find out what students may already know.
  • Buffalo are extinct. (False.)
  • There is no difference between a buffalo and a bison. (False. Buffalo technically refers to a species in Africa and Asia, but the two names are often used interchangeably.)
  • Bison are the largest terrestrial mammals in North America. (True)
  • Most of North America's bison are found on commercial ranches. (True)
  • The last free-roaming herd of bison found in Yellowstone National Park is in the center of a major controversy. (True.)
II. Show the video THE BUFFALO WAR. If time is available, I recommend showing the entire video (60 minutes), but showing the first 35 minutes of the video, ending at Jeanne-Marie Souvigney's statement that " . . . you're at risk of affecting the genetic viability of that herd."

III. Discuss the content of the video with the class to make sure that students understand the following:
  • What is the issue at stake?
  • What are the different groups involved?
  • What is each group doing?
  • What are the motivations for each group?
  • What did Ms. Souvigney mean by that last statement?
IV. Introduce the concept of biodiversity. Ask students to list the different types of organisms that exist in their school (or home or community). Explain that this variety of species is biodiversity between species. Briefly discuss by asking if this type of biodiversity is important. Then point out that biodiversity exists within species as well, and is just as important as diversity between species.

V. Look for variations within the students of the class. Have each student measure the length of his/her index finger, or determine his/her height or both. Tally up the totals for each measurement and have students create bar graphs from the information.

VI. Now look for variations within peanuts.
  • Pass a bowl of peanuts around the room and ask each student to take out one peanut. Students should then record as many observations they can make about their individual peanut: its length, width, color, shape, distinct markings.
  • Record class totals for length and width and make bar graphs for each, if desired.
  • Ask students to return the peanuts to the bowl and mix them up. Then have students see if they can pick out their original peanut from the bowl.
  • Return the peanuts to the bowl. Have students exchange peanut descriptions with each other and see if they can pick out their classmate's peanut based on their descriptions. Allow classmates to confirm the choices.
VII. Students should write responses to the following questions and discuss them in class:
  • What characteristics varied within student and peanut populations?
  • What other characteristics (different from what was observed in class today) might vary within a group? During class discussion, help students come up with different tolerances to environmental conditions (heat, cold, allergens, etc.) that they may not have thought of.)
  • Are there any advantages or disadvantages to an individual that might be at the extreme end of the variation (very short, very tall; very tolerant, very intolerant)? Explain your answer.
VIII. Diversity within buffaloes:
  • Have students learn more about buffalo. Direct them to "The Buffalo" link at the PBS website, THE BUFFALO WAR, at and to Nature's American Buffalo Resources site at
  • Have students list buffalo facts - specifically characteristics that might vary within the species. Discuss the benefits of the variability within the buffalo herds. Ask students to think about how environmental changes might affect the survival of buffalo that possess extremes of various characteristics. Then have them think about the slaughter of buffalo depicted in the video, THE BUFFALO WAR.
  • Have students write a summary of what they've learned in this activity about the value of biodiversity between and within a species. Conclude with their opinion about the impact of Montana's practices on the diversity of the Yellowstone buffalo.
  • Participation in discussion
  • Graphs and written responses to discussion questions
  • Written summaries of activity
  • Have students complete the Main Activity from Newton's Apple "Bison Roundup" at:
  • Have students write and perform a play that depicts some of the controversy discussed in "The Buffalo War" video.
Correlation to National Standards:
(from National Science Education Standards)
The Interdependence of Living Things
Living organisms have the capacity to produce populations of infinite size, but environments and resources are finite. This fundamental tension has profound effects on the interactions between organisms.

Human beings live within the world's ecosystems. Increasingly, humans modify ecosystems as a result of population growth, technology, and consumption.

Biological Evolution
Species evolve over time. Evolution is the consequence of the interactions of (1) the potential for a species to increase its numbers, (2) the genetic variability of offspring due to mutation and recombination of genes, (3) a finite supply of the resources required for life, and (4) the ensuing selection by the environment of those offspring better able to survive and leave offspring.
Lesson Plan Author

Victoria Babcock teaches biology, honors biology, zoology and botany at DeSoto High School in DeSoto, Missouri, just south of St. Louis. Prior to teaching at DeSoto she taught physical science and biology at Hannibal High School where she also coached the Academic Team and sponsored Science Club. She has also worked as an educator for the St. Louis Science Center. She has written several science and health lesson plans for PBS programs, including Frontline and The Newshour with Jim Lehrer.

Lessons: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4

The Buffalo War Guides Resources The Film Talkback In Their Shoes The War The Buffalo The Story