Evolution and Ecology

Evolution and Ecology



EBIO2020 Theory & Methods is a new core course developed to provide the ‘missing link’ between our introductory and upper-level courses in Ecology & Evolutionary Biology at Tulane University. The semester is divided into two halves, the first dedicated to topics in evolution and the second to topics in ecology, so our objectives and strategies are just a bit different from the CREATE framework we’ve been discussing in this workshop. We do not exclusively use the work of one research lab or focus on one research question or system. Instead, we select four faculty papers within the department. In so doing, students get to know several of their professors, meet and interview the authors in person, and learn about opportunities to become engaged in research projects at Tulane. We have found that this is a very enriching experience that has resulted in the placement of many of our majors into research labs and field positions.


Applicable for Courses:

Educational Level:

Roadmap Objectives:

    • Article: 15 Evolutionary Gems, Nature, January 2009
    • Content area/major concepts: Perhaps not introductory, but certainly can work for 200-level+ courses in evolution or with evolution units. Nature has compiled short summaries of 15 articles that provide support for evolution in three categories: the fossil record, habitats, and molecular processes. Topics range from the origin of feathers to toxin resistance in snakes and clams. These gems are a good series of very short popular press style articles for concept mapping. Alternatively, the original research papers could be the basis for an entire evolution course. A brief bibliography is provided for each summary, including the reference paper and related readings.

      Evolution, natural selection, speciation, fossil evidence, developmental biology, anatomy, animal behavior, predator-prey interactions, reproductive biology, and so on.
    • Methods or technology used to obtain data: iverse. Includes examples of comparative anatomy, modeling gene expression, mapping neural-crest cells, molecular genetic analyses, mating trials, field manipulations of predator communities, observations of predator-prey interactions, and so on, but not described in much (or any) detail.
    • How the CREATE strategy was used:
    • Biggest teaching challenge: These summaries are very short and would be better resources for CREATE if the methods and results were provided in more detail. Concept mapping works, but cartooning would be difficult. Would be worth digging in to the original articles in order to create more CREATE (use methods sections, figures, etc.).
    • Article: Derryberry, E. 2007. Evolution of bird song affects signal efficacy: An experimental test using historical and current signals. Evolution 61(8): 1938-1945.
    • Content area/major concepts: We selected this paper because it continues the discussion of finding evidence for evolution, it is short, very accessible to students, and written by one of the co-developers of the course - so we knew we had an available faculty member to interview early in the semester!

      Content reviewed: reproductive isolation, reproductive biology, signal evolution, territoriality, animal behavior
    • Methods or technology used to obtain data: copulation solicitation assays and field observations, playback, ancestral signal reconstruction, song recordings, comparative acoustic analysis
    • How the CREATE strategy was used:
    • Biggest teaching challenge: Given the short length, clearly written introduction and methods, basic statistics, simple figures (two bar graphs) and succinct discussion, we do not have any challenges to report at this time! The paper is very doable for a first round of full-fledged CREATE.
    • Article: Ricards-Zawacki, C. and M. Cummings. 2010. Intraspecific reproductive character displacement in a polymorphic poison dart frog, Dendrobates pumilio. Evolution 65(1): 259-267.
    • Content area/major concepts: Face it, poison dart frogs are downright sexy. Students have a lot of fun examining this system, and the paper reinforces and expands the discussion from the previous paper (signaling, sexual selection, etc.).
    • Methods or technology used to obtain data: three-way choice experiments with captive frogs captured in the field, measuring spectral reflectance, field observations, ANOVA, Tukey HSD tests,
    • How the CREATE strategy was used:
    • Biggest teaching challenge: The most difficult part, if you do not work with similar techniques, is understanding the methodology around measuring spectral reflectance. A few of our questions required consultation with the authors.
    • Article: Van Bael, S. et al. 2009. Two fungal symbioses collide: endophytic fungi are not welcome in leaf-cutting ant gardens. Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
    • Content area/major concepts: We selected this paper because it is well written and an exciting introduction to ecology. The system is a ‘new frontier’ that really appeals to students and ignites their imaginations.
    • Methods or technology used to obtain data: greenhouse experiments, maintaining laboratory colonies of leaf-cutter ants, choice-trials, growing and observing fungal cultivars in agar
    • How the CREATE strategy was used:
    • Biggest teaching challenge: Time. We could have spent several more class meetings discussing this paper.
    • Article: Karubian, J. et al. 2012. Mating behavior drives seed dispersal by the long-wattled umbrellabird Cephalopterus penduliger. Biotropica 44(5): 689-698.
    • Content area/major concepts: seed dispersal, genetic diversity, population ecology, plant-animal interactions, frugivore behavior, reproductive biology, lekking behavior, density-dependent effects
    • Methods or technology used to obtain data: mist netting, radio telemetry, GIS, field observations, diet manipulations of captive birds, regurgitation sampling, vegetation sampling
    • How the CREATE strategy was used:
    • Biggest teaching challenge: Students may not infer many of the conclusions in the discussion from the information presented in the results, but this could generate an interesting conversation after they read the discussion and reflect on their own interpretation compared to those of the authors.

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