Activity 7: Polycultures


  • Learn those growing multiple species at the same time in the same place can be more environmentally friendly, sustainable, and profitable than growing one species at a time.
  • Play a game that models how species interact with each other.

Learning Targets

  • Understand what a polyculture is.
  • Understand what multitrophic polyculture is.
  • Describe the advantages of growing multiple species in the same place at the same time.


90-120 minutes.


Included in this toolkit:

  • 1 Fish Poop diagram
  • 7 Food Web diagram
  • 5 Evolution Games

Not included but needed for this activity:

  • Paper Towels (1 roll per kit)
  • Evaluations (choose one or more of the following):
    • Exit Ticket (1 for each youth)
    • KLEWS Chart (1 for each youth)
    • Journals (1 for each youth)


  • Polyculture: Growing multiple species simultaneously.
  • Multitrophic: Multiple trophic levels.
  • Trophic Level: Description of an animal’s food/nourishment source, e.g. plants produce their food, herbivores eat plants, carnivores eat herbivores.
  • Evolution: is change in the heritable characteristics of biological populations over successive generations

Background Information for Facilitators

Note:  All links are provided purely for educational purposes. No responsibility is assumed for any content on the linked site(s).

Polyculture videos:

  • 3D Ocean Farming (NOAA website), NOAA (length: 4:47)
    • Summary: Example of one aquaculture fisherperson who farms kelp, scallops, clams, oysters, and mussels (graphic visual of this set up at 0:45).
  • UNH Integrated Multi-trophic Aquaculture Research (YouTube) University of New Hampshire (length: 2:58)
    • Summary: Example of a successful multi-trophic aquaculture in New Hampshire
    • Note: this video does not go very much into depth on the polyculture aspect, but there is a clear focus on sustainable aquaculture

Sustainable Aquaculture videos:

Optional: Invasive/Introduced Species: some things to consider


  • Gather all the necessary materials.
  • The Evolution game has many rules. Plan on at least 60 minutes of preparation before teaching others to play the game.
  • Facilitators should read the game rules ahead of time.
  • Facilitators should watch the how-to-play videos ahead of time. North Star Games has several videos on how to play “Evolution” on the Evolution Videos page of their website.
  • Youth are sometimes more comfortable if they have had a chance to read the rules/see the how-to-play videos ahead of time. Give youth access to the rules a day or so ahead so that they have a chance to read them. (This part is optional. We recommend that the facilitator look at the rules and videos and decide if their youth would benefit from prior exposure to rules.)
  • Decide which evaluation method you will use:


Before you begin, review the discussion norms that youth agreed to during the Introduction to Aquaculture activity. These norms are intended to help youth have productive, respectful conversations. Reminding youth of their norms helps youth to remember to follow their norms.

Engage (10 minutes)


  • KLEWS: brainstorm in the K column. Following discussion, record definitions in the S column.
  • Journals: brainstorm on page 32. Following discussion, record definitions on page 31.

As a group, discuss and agree on a definition of ‘polyculture’. If needed, use these definitions to get to something similar to the final definition:

  • “Poly-” = many, multiple (Greek)
  • “Culture” = cultivation or tilling (Latin)
  • “Polyculture” = growing multiple things

As a group, discuss and agree on a definition of ‘multitrophic’. If needed, use these definitions to get to something similar to the final definition:

  • “Multi-” = many, multiple (Latin)
  • “Trophic” = relating to nutrition, or what something eats (Greek)
  • “Multitrophic” = multiple food sources; for example plants, herbivores, and carnivores

Facilitators may consider showing the polyculture video(s) referenced in the background section of this guide. This will aid student understanding of polyculture and the impact of multitrophic aquaculture.

Why have a multitrophic, polyculture aquaculture?

  • KLEWS: brainstorm in the K column. Following discussion, record definitions in the S column.
  • Journals: brainstorm on page 32. Following discussion, record definitions on page 31.

How is growing multiple species different from only growing one? What are the benefits of a multitrophic, polyculture aquaculture? Here are some ways to brainstorm with youth about the pros/cons of polyculture.

  • Show youth the fish poop diagram.  Ask youth to imagine they were responsible for growing fish in an isolated system. Where would the fish get the food they need to survive?
    • You have to keep adding fish food to feed the fish!
    • You end up with a ton of fish poop in the water body … eventually, not even the fish can live there (not to mention other animals) due to the effects of having too much fish waste.
  • Use food web diagram to introduce the concept of a polyculture.  Can the youth come up with some species in the food web that could be grown together in a beneficial way?  How would that work in an aquaculture system? Ideally the waste from a cultivated species would be used as nutrients to another cultivated species!

Watch: What is Aquaculture (YouTube)

Brand names and trade names are included to show sponsorship or for educational purposes. No endorsement is implied nor is discrimination intended against similar products or services.

Identify species farmed in the videos. What traits do those species have that lend themselves to being harvested on a mass scale, in the Maine marine ecosystem?  What traits could be improved? Discuss how these species may have evolved over time. What traits do they have that are similar to those in the game? What traits could be improved as they related to aquaculture? How about multitrophic or polyculture aquaculture? What species would co-exist well and why?

Explore: Evolution Game (1.5 hours minimum, 2 hours is ideal)

Play the game.

Use the how-to-play videos/slides to teach the first round of the game, then let the youth go at their own pace.

View the No Shell Left Behind video (on the NOAA Ocean Today, Every Full Moon/A supplemental resource for educators website), which shares the story of oyster fisheries in the Chesapeake Bay.  Where do you see examples of traits and evolution being applied to oyster fishing? Are there any specific traits identified in this video that you experienced in the game? Note to facilitator: examples might include symbiosis, invasive species.

Explain (5-10 minutes)

Have youth explain what they have learned about polycultures.

  • KLEWS: use the L, E, and S columns.
  • Journals: summarize at the bottom of page 31.
  • What species combinations were particularly successful? Why?
  • Who had a species that was successful in one round but not in another? Why do you think that happened?
  • What kind of species are well suited to aquaculture? Why?
  • What kind of species are not suited for aquaculture? Why?

Extend: Aquaculture Project (10-15 minutes)

Use both supplemental resources to help youth with their research:

Is your Aquaculture Project a polyculture? Should it be? Update it so that it is environmentally sustainable (aka a polyculture that reduces the number of resources you need to put in or take out of the water body for your organisms to grow). Or, youth may collaborate with others to create polyculture systems with their existing aquaculture projects.  What could be the benefit of working together, and what might the challenges be?

Evaluate (Assessment) (5 minutes)

Approximately 5 minutes before the end of the session, have youth finish up what they are doing, help clean up the materials, and do one of the following evaluation methods:

Have youth complete and turn in an exit ticket.

Have youth finish and turn in KLEWS chart.

After completing this activity youth should have the following in their journals:

  • Definitions of ‘polyculture’ and ‘multitrophic’. (page 31)
  • Aquaculture project: (pages 33 and 34)
    • Effect of growing only their target species
    • Other species that would work well when grown simultaneously with target species
    • Revisions to aquaculture project to make it more sustainable, efficient, and profitable.


Permission to use Evolution was granted via email from Dominic Crapuchettes, a Game Designer of Evolution and Founder and Co-president of North Star Games. Evolution is the property of North Star Games.

Evolution, the award-winning board game, can be found on the Evolution product page of the North Star Games website.