Understanding Evolution: your one-stop source for information on evolution
Resource library Teaching materials Evolution 101 Support this project


Primer on trees

Tree misinterpretations

Field guide to evolutionary trees

How to build a tree

Trees matter

For teachers

For museums and zoos


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The Tree Room

Over 150 years ago, Darwin chose the tree of life as a metaphor for one of the most powerful ideas in biology: the relatedness of all living things. The power of that idea can be seen today in the ubiquity of evolutionary trees (also called phylogenetic trees) in all biological disciplines, from studies of newly discovered species to cutting-edge cancer research. Correspondingly, evolutionary trees have made their way into textbooks, museum exhibits, and the media. To understand modern biology, we all need to understand how evolutionary trees can be read and used.

The Tree Room provides a wide variety of tools for teaching and learning about evolutionary trees in both classrooms and informal science education settings. You can explore the following sections:

Darwin's tree
Darwin made this rough sketch of a phylogenetic tree in his notebook right after the words "I think."
  • Primer — Learn the basics about understanding evolutionary trees. If you are not very familiar with trees, you'll want to start here.

  • Misinterpretations and intuitive ideas about evolutionary trees — Find out how evolutionary trees are commonly misinterpreted.

  • Field guide to trees — Confused by a complicated tree from a textbook or the Web? Use our interactive guide to help unpack it.

  • How to build a tree — Learn about the methods that scientists use to reconstruct evolutionary history.

  • Trees matter — Discover the many practical applications of evolutionary trees.

  • For teachers — Get quick tips for incorporating trees into your classroom and browse a special selection of lessons for teaching about trees.

  • For museums and zoos — Find design tips and other tools to help you effectively incorporate trees into your exhibit.

Image of Darwin Tree courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

This project was made possible in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (grant number LG-26-12-0578-12). Institute of Museum and Library Services

The Tree Room
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