Thanks for your considered response, @JohnK
We have a third grade unit on interdependency and ecosystems. How animals thrive and adapt in particular environments and the food chain. They also learn the different biomes.
I think students could work in small groups to manage their world, the resources and the wildlife. They could experience in a first-hand way, how overuse results in a spoiled ecosystem. By devising the rules that they need to make their world thrive, they confront the necessary steps to protect an ecosystem. This could lead to very thoughtful conversations about our world and how we can do a better job of managing our resources.
I would love to see a robust variety of biomes. Being able to add biomes (via mods) would be awesome. Currently our students design animals to suit a particular biome (using arts and craft supplies). We toyed with the idea of letting them design a biome, but abandoned it as too intellectual for them to really engage. However, in the realm of this simulated world, designing a biome could be a fun challenge. Given these organisms, can you devise an ideal biome for them to thrive.
The underlying architecture of Eco could also be used to create simulations without human involvement. You design a biome. You design the organisms. You push go and watch how the ecosystem thrives or fails. Edit the settings and let it go again. Did it survive longer this time?
I have mocked up similar computer simulations and let the kids play with birth rates and life expectancies of animals in their eco system. They can see why apex predators need to have low birth rates, and feeder animals (herbivores) need to have high birth rate. If one species in your eco system goes extinct, then the eco system has collapsed and you need to start over again. Seeing how long (time) the ecosystem survives becomes an indicator of how well-balanced it is.
These are some thoughts from the top of my head, but I am pleased to be conversing with you, John, about this and I'm looking forward to more in-depth conversations to come.