Road Salt Ecotoxicology Experiment

How does road salt impact the germination of seeds?


Salt is used to melt snow and ice on roads and sidewalks. This reduces injury and accidents. Keeping the roads and sidewalks free from slippery ice is generally considered a good thing. On the other hand the salt doesn’t go away at the end of the winter. It stays in the environment. Some of the salt stays in the soil and some of it enters streams, rivers, and lakes with the melting snow and rain. Organisms living in the ocean have evolved to tolerate salt but other organisms do not have adaptations for living in a salty environment. People are starting to study how the salt in our environment impacts ecosystems.  

The germination of seeds might be affected by salt in the environment. If seeds are more or less likely to germinate in a salty environment there may be impacts on other organisms that rely on the plants as well. Seeds need specific environmental conditions to germinate. A seed can sit for years and only start to grow, or germinate, when the moisture level changes for example. 

Your goal for this project is to design an experiment that tests an environmental condition that impacts a seed germination. You’ll have to think carefully about variables and you’ll want to make sure you have multiple seeds in each group. Some helpful information is included below to help you out as you begin this interesting investigation. 

Helpful Information: 

  • There is an easy way to get seeds to germinate that we can use for experiments. I found a good way to set up seeds without soil to get them to germinate. All you need to do is fold a paper towel in half and then fold it in half again to make a pocket. Put four seeds inside of the paper towel and then place it in a plastic bag. 
  • To make things easy we will use chia, bean, and radish seeds. 
  • Under ideal conditions, radish seeds will germinate within three to four days, but may take as many as 10 days. 

Key things to review:

Hypothesis = The possible answers to the question you are investigating

Dependent Variable = The variable that you are measuring changes in. In our case the dependent variable is whether or not the seeds germinate

Independent Variable = The variable that you have set up to see the effects of. We want to see the effects of salinity. 

Control Group = This is the group that will be normal. In this experiment seeds without salt will be our control group. 

Materials Provided:

  1. 20 plastic cups
  2. 10 zip lock bags
  3.  potting soil
  4. 20 paper towels
  5. chia seeds, bean seeds, radish seeds
  6. salt

Step 1:  Experimental Design

Directions: Design a high quality experiment to explore how salt impacts seed germination. 

Experimental Design Guide
What is the experimental question?
What is your hypothesis and why do you think that?
What is your dependent variable?
What is your independent variable?

This chart will help you design your experiment. You might want to set up more than one experimental group, like low, medium, and high amounts of salt.

 In the final box you will need to draw what each experimental set up will look like.

Control groupExperimental Group (s)
Amount of salt
Number of seeds
Amount of water
Additional Variable
Draw what each set up will look like

Step 2:  Data

What data are you going to collect? You can collect data about how many seeds germinate, how long the roots get, how soon they germinate.


How many seeds will you use in your experiment? You need to get enough data to compare your different groups. Does your experiment include enough seeds? Enough replicates? The rule is usually at least 20 but can be less.  _____________________

What will your data collection table look like?

Step 3: Set up the experiment and record the data.

Use the experimental design to set up your experiment. Recording the data can be as simple as counting, it could be taking photographs, it could be measuring. Whatever works best for the type of date you are trying to collect. 

Step 4: Use some sort of analysis to compare your control group and experimental groups. 

Usually this is an average but could just be a count. It is also common to make a graph to compare the collected data. 

Step 5: Come to a conclusion. 

What is the answer to your experimental question?

When you compare the seeds that were given salt to the seeds that were not what are the results. To do this use the claim, evidence, reasoning format. You can write this up, record a video, just tell us at the next meeting. 

Claim: What are you saying is true? 

Evidence: What observations have you made to say this is true?

Reasoning: Why do your observations mean your claim is true?  



Ecology Movie Review

There are tons of great movies that explore nature, the relationship organisms have with their environment, and our relationship to each other and our environment. Holiday breaks are a great opportunity to watch one of these movies and reflect on its significance to you and our culture as a whole. You can help build a collection of movie reviews that encourage people to broaden their horizons and consider watching (or not watching) ecology oriented movies and documentaries


  1. Choose something to watch. It can either be a fiction or nonfiction movie.
    1. The PBS shows Nature and Nova have their documentaries available for free.
    2. You can find titles of different environmental movies on these websites. Many of them are free.
    3. There are great movies on netflix, amazon prime, hulu, Disney+ and youtube.
  2. After you watch it create some sort of review. The review should give some details about the movie, what you thought about it, and why it was the significance of the movie is. I will leave it up to you what you create but here are some suggestions from easiest to hardest
    1. Make an instagram post with an image and a fifty word summary and opinion.
    2. Make a video review.
    3. Write a full review as if you were an actual critic.

Some resources for writing film reviews:


Winter Solstice Seminar

What does the winter solstice mean to us on earth?

The winter solstice is an important time of year for many reasons. While it recognizes a celestial event, people have celebrated it throughout history. For this seminar we will build our understanding of its significance to people and other living things and spend some time outside exploring the planets and stars. 

Step 1: Understand what the solstice is. 

Use these resources to help

You should be able to answer the following questions before going on to the next step:

  1. What part of the earth has the longest night on the winter solstice?
  2. Why is the winter solstice on December 21?
  3. Why does the length of day change throughout the year?
  4. What happens in the southern hemisphere on our (northern Hemisphere) winter solstice?

Step 2: Understand what that means for us here in Rochester.

  1. What time does the sun rise?
  2. What time does the sun set? 
  3. How many hours of daylight?
  4. How many hours of darkness?

Step 3: Create your own model of the winter solstice. 

What do I mean by this? Create something, out of anything, that demonstrates why this is the shortest day and longest night of the year. Your model should include the earth and sun.

Send me a picture of your model. I will post them on our instagram. 


Step 3: Research what the winter solstice means to people or animals around the world. Try to find at least three articles to discuss.

Solstice Wikipedia:

American Indian Winter Solstice Celebrations

Readers Digest: 13 Fascinating Winter Solstice Traditions Around the World

Ireland Solstice Celebration


City Crows Pre-seminar Assignment

You will read a section about The Home Place (preferably the real book version)  to get your mind moving. The next step is to put your mind in a frame of inquiry by generating a list of questions. The main part of this activity is to observe the birds near your house for 30 minutes at sunset (between 4-5 pm). You may try to pay special attention to the crows or you can look at all of the birds. If you don’t know the names of the birds make them up or use some sort of description. The final task is to record something about your observations. You can record while you observe but the key thing is to sit still and deeply observe what is happening for 30 minutes.

  1. Start by reading the section of The Home Place that mentions crows (pgs 105 – 106). It is below or you can read it (maybe even the whole chapter in the book)
  2. Gather your warm clothes, a notepad, and something to write with.
  3. Write 20 questions about crows and any other birds you might find near your house during sunset.
  4. Spend 30 minutes (set a timer) observing birds from outside or inside of your house
  5. As you observe or after your observation record anything you think is important. This can be text, drawings, graphs, charts. It is up to you.
  6. Take a picture of your notes and a photo of your observation place and send to the group chat or me individually. 

We will start the discussion at 5 and it will go until 6.



(PGS 105-106)

“I wasn’t quite a man when I put away the childish things, but I was old enough to understand that unassisted flight wasn’t going to happen for me, no matter how hard I flapped or how high I jumped. Dreams of fame as a fighter pilot eventually faded, too, as my identity and desires evolved. But while many things in my mind changed, the fascination with birds and flight stuck hard and fast.

Birds were a part of everyday life on the Home Place. There were the blue jays that “stole” Mamatha’s pecans in the fall. There were the turkeys that gobbled in the spring, and the quail that called in the summer. There were flocks of sparrows and juncos that seemed grateful for the grits Mamatha scattered in the snow.

I’ve noticed birds for as long as I can remember. Mamatha’s seed-spreading sympathy for the snowbirds in the winter was the first I ever knew of anyone feeding birds. Daddy’s cornfield confrontations with crows—and his practice of killing one and hanging it to scare away the other marauders—worked. Crows were anything but birdbrained. Hoover understood that the big black birds’ intelligence was a force to be reckoned with. It moved my respect for crows and their kindred to a different level.

I saw birds through others’ eyes first. Many were friends: insect-eating robins, beautiful singing redbirds, weather-forecasting rain crows. Others were foes: crop-eating crows, death-dealing owls, pecan-stealing jays. The vast majority were neutral neighbors: thrushes, warblers, vireos, tanagers, sparrows, buntings, and blackbirds. I’m not sure anyone else noticed seasonal changes in their vast array.

At first the identities of the birds didn’t really matter to me, either. The Home Place names were enough. There weren’t differences between chipping sparrows or song sparrows; they were all just sparrows. I never knew that there were other red birds besides cardinals.

Then, one day, my matronly, gray-haired second-grade teacher, Mrs. Beasley, gave us mimeographed pictures of birds to color. The empty outline of that bird on the white page inspired me. I somehow knew the bird on the page was what Mamatha called a “markingbird”—a gray-and-white copycat songster that I saw and heard often on the Home Place—and so was given permission to pursue my ornithological obsession. Inside my seven-year-old psyche a switch was flipped on that would never be turned off. Not long after the mimeographed mockingbird’s inspiration, I bought my first field guide—A Golden Nature Guide to Birds. The pocket-sized book was full of the birds I knew and many more I didn’t. It gave some of the birds different names and stories that explained where they lived or even how they sounded. Soon my grandmother’s birds became my ornithology. Her redbirds, bee-martins, yellowhammers, snowbirds, rain crows, partridges, buzzards, and chicken hawks became northern cardinals, eastern kingbirds, yellow-shafted flickers, slate-colored juncos, yellow-billed cuckoos, northern bobwhite, vultures, and red-tailed hawks. Perhaps I could still live some of my life’s desires through birds. Even if I couldn’t fly like them, I could watch them and imagine life on the wing.”


City Crows Seminar

Are the downtown crows a serious problem or beautiful creatures who should be admired and left alone?

While on a few of our late afternoon and evening hikes we have noticed the crows flocking back downtown from their activities on the outskirts of town. There are varied opinions about these creatures and they are worth an exploration.

Seeing them brings up questions like:

  • How many are there?
  • Where do they live?
  • What do they eat?
  • What is their impact on people?

WXXI recently published an article about the City of Rochester’s efforts to remove them from downtown, at a considerable expense to taxpayers. What do you think? Should we be spending money to get rid of them? What is your response to reasons people give on the other side of the argument? Is there common ground? I know how I feel, I used to live on a street downtown where crows would roost in the trees at night and every morning I would wake up with my car covered in huge piles of bird poop. It was disgusting and while crows are really cool I feel strongly that something should be done but I don’t want to see the crows harmed.

Instructions for seminar:

  1. Take some time to observe the crows on their morning or evening travels if you can. They are most active at sunrise (7:30 AM) and sunset (4:35). Record how many you see, what they are doing, which direction they are going, and anything else you think is interesting.
  2. Read / listen to this article from WXXI:
  3. Find at least 3 other resources about crows in cities or crows in general to learn from.
  4. Be prepared to discuss your answers to these questions:
    1. What did you learn from your research?
    2. What do you think?
    3. Should we be spending money to get rid of them?
    4. What is your response to reasons people give on the other side of the argument?
    5. Is there common ground?
    6. What other questions do you have about this topic?

On Wednesday 12/9 we will have a discussion about crows in the city. I look forward to hearing what you have to say.


Why Visit?

During these difficult times we may struggle to keep ourselves entertained. Many of us have decided to spend our time outside but as we all know, upstate New York gets really cold in the winter time. So during this pandemic, where should we go on our free time? 

It is important to get out and enjoy what we have in our community. I created a list of places where we can explore and have fun but also be safe from COVID-19. These places are pretty affordable and family friendly.



Genesee Country Village & Museum
Genesee Country Village & Museum
Bristol Mountain Ski Resort - Wikiwand
Bristol mountains
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Park
Ice rink at Martin Luther King Jr. Park
Upcoming Event Information - FIRST NIGHT ROCHESTER
Bill Gray’s Ice rink


Places to visit in the Winter

-Images in next post


The Urban Ecology Program Grows and Evolves

The Seneca Park Zoo Blog recently featured a story about our efforts to provide a safe and engaging program for the Urban Ecologists this summer.

” Finding a path through the urban wilderness on foot is just one of the ways they are preparing to lead our communities down an uncertain path. The skills, knowledge, and relationships they are building today will create the hopeful tomorrow we need.”

Post from Seneca Park Zoo Blog:

planting flowers in the Peace Garden on Thurston and Chili