Evolution and Climate Change

Chewing on Change | Ecological Niche Modeling | Drowsy Drosophila | Hands-on Human Evolution

Currently in development is our new Evolution and Climate Change Curriculum Series. The series consists of curricular units developed by CPET staff members and CPET Curriculum Fellows. Each curriculum is hands-on and inquiry-based, stressing collaborative learning and 21st century skills. Furthermore each unit is comprised of stand-alone lessons, so you may pick and choose how much or how little to incorporate! Please note that all are a work in progress and therefore not perfect – yet. We welcome feedback!


Chewing on Change: Exploring the Evolution of Horses in Response to Climate Change

Thanks to all of our field test teachers and students for their feedback! A revised version of Chewing on Change will be released in Spring 2017. Please check back or contact julie@cpet.ufl.edu for an update.

Introductory Material   Lesson One    Lesson Two    Lesson Three

Assessment and Evaluation Material     Download Full Curriculum

Lesson One: Epoch slideshow (PPT)

Lesson One: Modified student pages (MS Word)

Lesson One: Modified data table – teacher page (MS Word)

Tutorial for downloading files from MorphoSource for 3D printing fossil horse teeth study set (PaleoTEACH)

Video tutorial for measuring fossil horse teeth (YouTube)

Lesson Three: Fossil Horses, Orthogenesis, and Communicating Evolution in Museums (link to paper)

Lesson Three: Modified horse cards (PDF)


Lesson One: Exploring the Geologic Time Scale via Changes in Fossilized Horse Teeth in Response to the Evolution of Plants

As an opening activity the class is presented with a slide show of illustrations representing the physical landscape of each of the five epochs explored in this lesson. As a class students make observations about the types of flora present in each epoch. Next, in collaborative learning groups, students measure and sketch physical characteristics of fossilized horse teeth from a 3D printed study set provided by the FLMNH. Each group produces a graph that summarizes the trend between age of the fossil and hypsodonty index (HI, essentially the length of the tooth divided by the width). Plant information cards summarizing each epoch are also provided to each group and superimposed on the student graph. Guided analysis questions allow students to develop an explanation for the change in horse teeth in response to plant evolution.

Download Lesson One                 


Lesson Two: Examining Intraspecies Variation and Changes in a Single Horse Population

In this lesson students examine images of a collection of horse teeth from the same population. Students take HI measurement data (same procedure as Lesson One) to determine if this collection of teeth represents individuals from the same species. Students use the graphs produced in Lesson One to determine which species this population likely belonged to. Additionally,students determine if there is intraspecies variation in this population, using an embedded horse tooth variation guide in the student page: Examining Intraspecies Variation and Changes in a Single Horse Population. Finally, students make predictions as to what might happen to horse teeth in future generations if plant life drastically differed again on Earth.

Download Lesson Two  



Lesson Three: Proposing Changes to Orthogenesis and Communicating Evolution in Museums

Students are presented a current problem observed in the majority of natural history museums in which orthogenesis is used to display the evolution of horses. The use of orthogenesis, rather than the widely accepted branching phylogenetic tree, often leads to misconceptions about evolution amongst visitors of the general public to such exhibits (MacFadden et al, 2012). Teachers can provide students with a fictional letter from the curator of a natural history museum requesting their help with this problem or have students complete a close read of the paper by MacFadden and colleagues (2012) to explore this issue. Students then use their fossil data graphs from Lesson One in addition to information about ancestral horse species presented on horse cards to complete a poster proposal to summarize how the fossil record clearly shows a branching phylogenetic evolution of the horse.

Download Lesson Three




Ecological Niche Modeling: The Evolution of a Species

Picture5This unit was designed to give students the chance to accurately depict the current and future distributions of a species through the use of ecological niche modeling software. Students will observe how a specific population of their choice could evolve over the next 35 years. Additionally, students will actively participate in a citizen science project of their choosing in order to potentially increase the accuracy of future scientific predictions.

Download Lesson:  PDFZip files



Drowsy Drosophila: Rapid Evolution in the Face of Climate Change

Introductory Material    Lesson One   Lesson Two    Lesson Three

Assessment and Evaluation Material     Download Full Curriculum

Supplementary presentation materials:  Presentation 1    Presentation 2    Presentation 3    Entomology Presentation

Field test information: Printable IRB consent form    Field test requirements

LESSON 1:  The Winners and Losers of Climate Change

Students are assigned two articles to read for homework to prepare them for a class activity involving climate change “winners” and “losers”. In the first article students learn how climate change produces not only hotter temperatures, but also extreme weather events. In the second article, students learn about phenotypic plasticity and look at several examples of genetic changes that have already occurred in species due to climate change. In class students receive a set of Climate Affected species cards and participate in an activity to predict which species populations are likely to increase (“winner”) or decrease (“loser”) in response to the current climate change trajectory.

Download Lesson One


LESSON 2: Chill Coma Assay and Evolution Investigation

In this two day lesson, with an optional third day exploring the Hardy-Weinberg Principle to quantify evolutionary change in a population, students will have the opportunity to run the Chill Coma Recovery Assay with live Drosophila melanogaster specimens as an engaging introduction before further exploring the mechanisms of evolutionary change in a population, specifically in response to climate change. In Part I of this lesson students will perform a hands on lab procedure, use statistical analysis both on pen and paper, as well as using computer-based spreadsheets in Microsoft Excel, before exploring the mechanisms of evolution via supported self-investigation in Part II. Part III of the lesson is the optional Hardy-Weinberg activity that will further deepen student understanding of biostatistics, including both instruction and practice using the Hardy-Weinberg equations as well as additional application of the Chi- Squared statistical test.

Download Lesson Two


Lesson 3: Patterns of Natural Selection

In this one-day lesson students will first learn about three types of natural selection: directional, stabilizing and disruptive selection. Next, students complete a practice set with different population scenarios and predict what kind of natural selection the population will undergo. As a conclusion to the lesson, students work in groups to identify how a real population of organisms might respond to climate change induced changes in their environments. Each group draws a graph and writes predictions on a white board. The group information is presented to the entire class and the students ll in a graphic organizer listing problems created by climate change and possible adaptations in response to those problems.

Download Lesson Three



Hands-On Human Evolution: A Laboratory-Based Approach (Coming Soon!)

In this two-lesson unit, students use both morphological evidence and genetic evidence to understand our closest living relatives and other extinct species within the human family tree.  In lesson one, students investigate different aspects of human evolution through a series of seven laboratory stations. Each station is specifically designed to allow students to investigate evolution in an evidence based manner, while providing intuitive questions to guide their critical thinking.  Lesson one introduces students to the human fossil record and shows the importance of using morphological characteristics when investigating phylogenetic relationships.  In lesson two, students compare stained chromosomes, amino acid sequences and base pair sequences for a variety of extant primates. They will use critical thinking skills to construct small phylogenies and determine which primates are more closely related to humans. This lesson provides the students with a basis in using multiple lines of evidence to come to scientific conclusions. Lesson two introduces students to modern techniques in the investigation of phylogenetic relationships and also highlights the importance of using both the fossil record and DNA to draw conclusions regarding relatedness.