(IBCL) Inventory of Biotic Climate Literacy Pilot Field Test Findings

Emily Holt
Associate Professor
University of Northern Colorado

Need: Climate change is an existential threat to all life on earth; the documented impacts of climate change on living systems are extensive and of a devastating scale. Several existing frameworks (e.g. AAAS’s Vision and Change, ESA’s 4DEE) encourage undergraduate students and their educators to better understand and address this global issue. However, tools to effectively assess student knowledge of the biotic outcomes of climate change are lacking. We previously built a new framework, the BIC4 (Biotic Impacts of Climate Change Core Concepts), to expand on climate topics beyond existing frameworks. This project reports on a novel concept inventory we developed, the Inventory of Biotic Climate Literacy (IBCL), to address the BIC4 and many expert and student interviews. Guiding Question: This first version, a 17-item survey, was intended to document students’ existing knowledge surrounding the ways in which climate change will impact living things. We administered this survey Fall 2021 in introductory biology and ecology courses across 14 US institutions, including public and private institutions, from baccalaureate-only to R1 research institutions. Our guiding question was what is the most common response pattern from a nationwide sample on this pilot field test, focusing on how climate change affects the biota on a unique time scale?Outcomes: Of our 843 undergraduate respondents, a majority had taken only one (40%) or no (13%) biology courses prior to the given semester. We also found most of our participants (99%) accept that climate change is occurring, so where responses are incorrect, we are confident that this is due to a lack of understanding, not a rejection of the premise. Through this poster, we will discuss the 9 items that focus narrowly on scale aspects of climate change, distinguishing the biotic impacts in response to climate change as a unique type of disturbance (e.g., it is not a discrete event, but occurs continuously over time). For example, on two of these items, we found 62% and 53% of students correctly understood the scale of climate change as an unceasing, gradual disturbance impacting biotic systems. Alternatively, many students believed increased temperatures results in no impact on species until a “critical point,” spurring a threshold response, or were unable to discriminate the scale of a fire disturbance from that of climate change. Broader Impacts: These findings suggest that undergraduate Introductory Biology and Ecology students have consistent misconceptions regarding the scale of climate change that can be measured by our IBCL. We used the findings reported here to modify the IBCL into its final version, which was field tested in April 2022. We anticipate that the completed IBCL will benefit future students in biology and ecology by allowing instructors to collect data on their students’ conceptions to better target instructional efforts to overcome misconceptions of the biotic impacts of climate change. We also hope that dissemination of the IBCL will be a valuable tool for education researchers to test the efficacy of classroom interventions aiming at improving student conceptions of the biotic impacts of climate change.


Ryan Dunk, University of Northern Colorado, Greeley, CO; Krystal Hinerman, Lamar University, Beaumont, TX