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Island biogeography and evolution: Solving a phylogenetic puzzle using molecular genetics


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Students focus on the evolution of three species of lizards using real data sets — geographical and geological data, then morphology, and finally molecular data — to determine possible phylogenetic explanations.

Filson, R.P.

Grade level:

Two full class periods

Teaching tips:
Use this resource to relate evolutionary concepts to the topic of classification (or get more suggestions for incorporating evolution throughout your biology syllabus). Though developed for high school students, this activity works well at the undergraduate level.

Correspondence to the Next Generation Science Standards is indicated in parentheses after each relevant concept. See our conceptual framework for details.

  • Biological evolution accounts for diversity over long periods of time.

  • Traits that confer an advantage may persist in the population and are called adaptations.

  • Speciation is the splitting of one ancestral lineage into two or more descendent lineages.

  • Speciation is often the result of geographic isolation.

  • Occupying new environments can provide new selection pressures and new opportunities, leading to speciation.

  • Scientific knowledge is open to question and revision as we come up with new ideas and discover new evidence.

  • Scientists test their ideas using multiple lines of evidence.

  • Scientists use multiple research methods (experiments, observational research, comparative research, and modeling) to collect data.

  • Scientists may explore many different hypotheses to explain their observations.

  • Our knowledge of the evolution of living things is always being refined as we gather more evidence.

  • Classification is based on evolutionary relationships.

  • Scientists use multiple lines of evidence (including morphological, developmental, and molecular evidence) to infer the relatedness of taxa.

  • Scientists use the geographic distribution of fossils and living things to learn about the history of life.

  • Evolutionary trees (i.e., phylogenies or cladograms) portray hypotheses about evolutionary relationships.

  • Evolutionary trees (i.e., phylogenies or cladograms) are built from multiple lines of evidence.

  • Evolutionary trees can be used to make inferences and predictions.

Teacher background:

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