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Lesson summary for:
Phylogenetics laboratory: Reconstructing evolutionary history


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By examining specimens, students fill in a data matrix of animal taxa and complete exercises to learn about synapomorphies, mapping characters on a phylogeny, and assessing parsimony.

Kefyn Catley and Laura Novick

Grade level:

3 hours

Teaching tips:
Use this resource to relate evolutionary concepts to the topic of animal diversity (or get more suggestions for incorporating evolution throughout your biology syllabus).

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.

  • Through billions of years of evolution, life forms have continued to diversify in a branching pattern, from single-celled ancestors to the diversity of life on Earth today.

  • Present-day species evolved from earlier species; the relatedness of organisms is the result of common ancestry.

  • An organism's features reflect its evolutionary history.

  • Similarities among existing organisms (including morphological, developmental, and molecular similarities) reflect common ancestry and provide evidence for evolution.

  • Not all similar traits are homologous; some are the result of convergent evolution.

  • 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.

  • The principle of parsimony suggests that the phylogenetic hypothesis most likely to be true is the one requiring the fewest evolutionary changes.

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

Teacher background:

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