Using Data to Investigate Elephant Evolution
In this activity, students work with authentic research data to explore the impact of poaching on African elephants. The data set was collected from elephant populations that have suffered historically heavy poaching and shows changes in certain traits, such as tusk size, over time. Through a series of data exploration exercises that develop their quantitative literacy skills, students examine evidence of evolution in these elephant populations.
This activity uses a guided inquiry approach. Students come up with their own ways to investigate the data at the beginning and are then guided through more specific graphical and statistical analyses. There are two versions of the “Student Handout,” which can be customized based on your needs. In “Version 1,” students explore the data mainly using graphical representations. In “Version 2,” students also analyze the data by conducting statistical analyses.
Student Learning Targets
- Use authentic research data to examine evidence of evolution through quantitative analysis and reasoning.
- Make predictions about the evolution of a population under certain selective pressures.
- Generate graphical representations and conduct statistical analyses to explore data and draw conclusions.
- (“Version 2” only) Determine whether the difference in the means of two groups is statistically significant.
bar graph, confidence interval, error bar, human-induced evolution, mean, poaching, statistical significance, t test, tusks, unnatural selection
Chiyo, Patrick I., Vincent Obanda, and David K. Korir. “Illegal tusk harvest and the decline of tusk size in the African elephant.” Ecology and Evolution 5, 22: 5216–5229 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1002/ece3.1769, data deposited at Dryad Digital Repository, https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.h6t7j.
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Accessibility Level (WCAG compliance)
AP Biology (2019)
EVO-1.E, EVO-1.F, SP2, SP4, SP5, SP6
IB Biology (2016)
IB Environmental Systems and Society (2017)
2.1, 3.2, 3.3
Common Core (2010)
Math.F-IF.7, Math.S-ID.1, Math.S-ID.2, Math.S-ID.3, Math-S-ID.4, Math.S-IC.1, Math.S-IC.3; MP1, MP2, MP5
Vision and Change (2009)
CC1, CC5; DP1, DP2