Teaching Evolution Using Lizards and Tetrapods

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This playlist can be used to teach several core topics in evolution by exploring examples of lizard species evolution and the effects of mass extinctions on tetrapod evolution. The topics covered include adaptive radiation, convergent evolution, speciation through reproductive isolation, phylogeny, and mass extinctions. 

By completing the resources in this playlist, students will be able to:

  • Explain how ecomorphs are examples of both adaptive radiation and convergent evolution.
  • Compare mitochondrial DNA sequences to construct a phylogenetic tree and determine whether the data support a hypothesis.
  • Explain the characteristics of the five major mass extinctions throughout geologic history.
  • Make a claim about the gradual sequence of evolutionary change using transitional fossil comparisons as evidence.
  • Analyze data to explain how reproductive isolation can lead to speciation.

This playlist can be used in undergraduate biology courses. Implementing this playlist should take about 213 minutes of class time in total, spread out among other discussions and activities.

Using DNA to Explore Lizard Phylogeny
Topic
Genetics
Evolution
Science Practices
Resource Type
Activities

In this activity, students build and interpret phylogenetic trees to deduce how specific adaptations evolved among anole lizards in the Caribbean.

To use this resource as part of this playlist, combine it with the film The Origin of Species: Lizard in an Evolutionary Tree (resource 2 in this playlist) as follows:

  • Have students complete question 1 in part 1 of the “Student Handout.”
  • Show the film from 0:00–9:48.
  • Have students complete questions 2–3 in part 1 of the handout.
  • Lead a class discussion on questions 4–6 in part 1 of the handout.
  • As homework, have students complete part 2 of the handout, including the “Analysis Questions.” The last question requires watching the remainder of the film.
  • The next day, lead a class discussion about why mitochondrial DNA is used in this activity.

Estimated Time: 50 minutes of class time for the activity and discussions.

The Origin of Species: Lizards in an Evolutionary Tree
Topic
Anatomy & Physiology
Evolution
Resource Type
Videos

This film shows the adaptations of anole lizards to habitats in the Caribbean. The film discusses how these observable differences relate to adaptive radiation, convergent evolution, and speciation through reproductive isolation.

To use this resource as part of this playlist, refer to the notes accompanying the “Using DNA to Explore Lizard Phylogeny” activity (resource 1 in this playlist). 

Estimated Time: 18 minutes of class time for the film only.

The Day the Mesozoic Died
Topic
Evolution
Earth Science
Science Practices
Resource Type
Videos

This film follows the scientific process of scientists trying to explain the sudden disappearance of the dinosaurs at the end of the Cretaceous period. 

Have students watch the film as homework. This film provides background information for the next resource in the playlist.

Estimated Time: 0 minutes of class time.

The Making of Mass Extinctions
Topic
Evolution
Earth Science
Resource Type
Interactive Media

In this Click & Learn, students explore environmental factors involved in each of Earth’s five mass extinctions and the species affected.

To use this resource as part of this playlist:

  • Have students work through the Click & Learn in small groups.
  • Upon completion of the Click & Learn, lead a class discussion comparing the similarities and differences between the mass extinctions. Discuss the evidence for a sixth mass extinction. 

Estimated Time: 50 minutes of class time.

Great Transitions: The Origin of Tetrapods
Topic
Anatomy & Physiology
Evolution
Resource Type
Videos

This film follows the discovery of key fossils from the extinct vertebrate Tiktaalik, which helped scientists uncover the evolutionary origins of four-legged animals, or tetrapods.

Have students watch the film as homework. This film provides background information for the next resource in the playlist.

Estimated Time: 0 minutes of class time.

Exploring Transitional Fossils
Topic
Anatomy & Physiology
Evolution
Earth Science
Resource Type
Interactive Media

In this Click & Learn, students examine fossils of fish, tetrapods, and their transitional forms.

Have students explore the Click & Learn and complete the “Student Worksheet” individually or in small groups.

Estimated Time: 50 minutes.

Lizard Evolution Virtual Lab
Topic
Anatomy & Physiology
Evolution
Science Practices
Resource Type
Interactive Media

In this virtual lab, students explore different concepts in evolution by taking measurements and analyzing data from anole lizards. 

To use this resource as part of this playlist, have students complete only Modules 3 and 4 of the lab.

  • In Module 3 (Experimental Data), students collect and analyze limb length data to compare two populations of lizards living in different habitats. The data provide experimental evidence of evolutionary change, to illustrate that change can be observed in a relatively short time.
  • In Module 4 (Dewlap Colors), students collect and analyze dewlap color data to compare two populations of lizards. This module focuses on the role that sexual selection plays in evolution.

Estimated Time: 45 minutes.