SimBio News: Beta Version of Evolutionary Evidence Lab Released

SimBiotic Software is releasing a beta version of a new simulated biology lab, Evolutionary Evidence, and we are looking for help. Evolutionary Evidence, part of the EvoBeaker® suite of labs, uses interactive simulations to explore some of the evidence that life on earth has evolved from a primordial common ancestor. As part of a National Science Foundation funded research program, we are looking for college biology classes to test the lab in spring 2009.

The Evolutionary Evidence lab covers a variety of lines of evidence for evolutionary theory, but focuses on how traits of related species are nested. After a first section where students are introduced to a series of extant species and their traits, the students start working with a set of lizard populations on 5 different islands. There are 8 traits available that the lizards can acquire (see the pictures) and students get to design the lizard population on each island with whatever collection of traits they wish. Students must then circle the populations that show each trait, as in the figure below.

New lab explores Darwin's theories of evolution by descent with modification (Click to enlarge)

The next section asks students to do the same thing, but with lizards that evolved. The population starts on one island, and students change one or two traits in that population. Then they immigrate a lizard from the initial population to a second island, and add one or two more traits to the new population. By continuing until all the islands are populated, they make a set of populations connected through evolution. As before, students sample from each island and circle the lizards with similar traits.

Evolutionary Evidence lab simulates evolved lizard populations over time (Click to enlarge)

By comparing the two patterns of traits within the populations, students see how nested sets of traits are evidence for life having evolved from common ancestors rather than having been created in separate events. The lab also presents a way of quantifying this nestedness, and asks students to examine some real data from several taxa to see whether the data supports or refutes evolution having occurred.

The fourth section uses a simulation to create a set of evolved populations without the students seeing what happened. The student must then sample each population and use nestedness to predict the order in which different traits should show up in a fossil record. They can then compare their prediction against a simulated fossil record corresponding to the evolved lizards. A final section returns to the original set of taxa and asks students to predict the order in which fossils with each of these real traits should appear, which they compare against the real fossil record.

We are looking for help from college instructors who are teaching non-majors, introductory biology, or evolution classes in Spring 2009 and would be willing to run the Evolutionary Evidence lab (available on both Macintosh or Windows computers), along with a pre- and post-test, during their class. The assessment follows the same research protocol as previous EvoBeaker studies. We expect the pre- and post-tests to take 15–20 minutes each, and the lab itself to take 1–1.5 hours. We will assist with the paperwork for IRB human-subjects approval at each school, and will collect and analyze the data electronically. Unfortunately, because of human-subjects concerns, only college courses are allowed to participate in the study at this time. However, the lab will be available to high schools in 2009/2010 as part of SimBio's Advanced Biology packages; if you are an interested high school teacher, you are welcome to contact us to be put on our mailing list. If you teach biology in a college or university and are interested in participating in the study, please email research@simbio.com for more information, evaluation copies of the lab, and to sign up.

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