This virtual evolution lab utilizes data collection and analysis to allow students to study evolutionary processes using modern stickleback fish and fossil specimens.
Students virtually analyze the pelvic structures of the threespine stickleback fish, using photographs of living fish and fossil specimens. Students complete three experiments, each focusing on changes to the pelvic girdle and pelvic spines of freshwater stickleback populations. In the first experiment students analyze the pelvic structures of stickleback populations and compare two freshwater populations to one another (one lake has large predator fish, the other does not) and to marine stickleback fish. In the second experiment students analyze and compare pelvic structures of fossil stickleback specimens and analyze their data to determine the rate at which pelvic reductions evolved. In the optional third experiment students examine pelvic asymmetry by measuring the differences between left and right sides of the pelvis in living stickleback populations. Students explore the connections between the development of the pelvic asymmetry and genetics. The lab includes several short videos explaining research methods and the evolutionary history of the stickleback fish. The student activity also includes tutorials, which prepare students for the three virtual experiments, as well as graphing tasks, and data analysis questions/quizzes. The lab emphasizes quantitative measurement of phenotypic diversity in related stickleback populations and encourages inquiry into the role of natural selection and underlying genetic mechanisms. Also available is the HHMI short film The Making of the Fittest: Evolving Switches, Evolving Bodies, which can be accessed at http://www.hhmi.org/biointeractive/making-fittest-evolving-switches-evolving-bodies. Students are encouraged to watch the short film when doing the lab.
There is also a student worksheet that guides students through the process of completing the tutorials, experiments, and quizzes in the lab. The worksheet comes in two iterations, allowing the teacher to select the depth to which students take this activity.