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Stickleback Evolution Virtual Lab


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This virtual lab teaches skills of data collection and analysis to study evolutionary processes using stickleback fish and fossil specimens.

Howard Hughes Medical Institute

Grade level:

3 hours

Teaching tips:
Because the trait under study is fish pelvic morphology, the lab can also be used for lessons on vertebrate form and function. In an ecology unit, the lab could be used to illustrate predator-prey relationships and environmental selection pressures. The sections on graphing, data analysis, and statistical significance make the lab a good fit for addressing the "science as a process" or "nature of science" aspects of the curriculum. Get more suggestions for incorporating evolution throughout your biology syllabus. The entire lab and worksheet take approximately 2.5 to 3.5 hours to complete, depending on the student. Teachers have a great deal of flexibility as to which portions of the lab and worksheet they will use and whether students should do the assigned sections at home or in class, working individually or in groups. Based on student evaluation data we have seen, they generally enjoy working in pairs or small groups, and they complete the lab more quickly when doing so. Answers to the worksheets are readily available online, so if this is a concern, you may wish to have students complete those in class.

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.

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

  • There is a fit between organisms and their environments, though not always a perfect fit.

  • An organism's features reflect its evolutionary history.

  • The fossil record provides evidence for evolution.

  • There are similarities and differences among fossils and living organisms.

  • The fossil record documents the biodiversity of the past.

  • The sequence of forms in the fossil record is reflected in the sequence of the rock layers in which they are found and indicates the order in which they evolved.

  • Evolution results from natural selection acting upon genetic variation within a population.

  • Inherited characteristics affect the likelihood of an organism's survival and reproduction.

  • Over time, the proportion of individuals with advantageous characteristics may increase (and the proportion with disadvantageous characteristics may decrease) due to their likelihood of surviving and reproducing.

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

  • Depending on environmental conditions, inherited characteristics may be advantageous, neutral, or detrimental.

  • A hallmark of science is exposing ideas to testing.

  • 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 can test ideas about events and processes long past, very distant, and not directly observable.

  • Scientists use fossils (including sequences of fossils showing gradual change over time) to learn about past life.

  • Scientists use physical, chemical, and geological evidence and comparative anatomy to establish the age of fossils.

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

Teacher background:

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