Teaching an Online Introductory Biology Lab Using Evolution and Ecology Resources

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This playlist can be used in an online, undergraduate (majors-level) introductory biology lab to incorporate core topics in evolution, diversity of life, and ecology. Using case studies, multimedia, and interactive resources, it engages students in data analysis and critical thinking. The topics covered include phylogeny, natural selection, speciation, viruses, bacteria, population ecology, community ecology, ecosystem ecology, and climate change.

This playlist can be used to teach six 3-hour (180-minute) labs in a lab course for a total of 1080 minutes of instruction over a semester.

Lab 1: Evolution

By completing the resources in this lab (resources 1–2 in this playlist), students will be able to:

  • Explain how molecular sequences, such as DNA, can be used to study evolutionary relationships.
  • Summarize the process and goals of DNA sequence alignment. 
  • Interpret a phylogenetic tree.
  • Collect and analyze data to quantify phenotypic diversity among populations.
  • Explain how similarities or differences in traits can evolve as adaptations to similar or different environmental conditions.
  • Perform statistical calculations, including calculations for the mean, standard deviation, standard error of the mean (SEM), and the 95% confidence interval.

Lab 2: Viruses

By completing the resources in this lab (resources 3–5 in this playlist), students will be able to:

  • List the ways in which viruses can differ from each other.
  • Identify different components and characteristics of viruses and their role in infection.
  • Calculate the size of a virus relative to a human cell.
  • Use information collected in case studies to distill complex, real-world data, and perform basic calculations to make decisions on the spread of an infectious disease.
  • Analyze and interpret data from a scientific figure. 
  • Explain the term zoonotic disease and discuss some of the global patterns in mammals that carry these diseases.
  • Use appropriate scientific terms, including “reservoir” and “spill over,” in describing a disease outbreak.

Lab 3: Microbes

By completing the resources in this lab (resources 6–8 in this playlist), students will be able to:

  • Make observations on an ongoing experiment.
  • Make inferences based on observations.
  • Describe variation in microbes and their role in the environment. 

Lab 4: Population Ecology

By completing the resources in this lab (resources 9–11 in this playlist), students will be able to:

  • Develop scientific explanations and justify claims using evidence.
  • Calculate elephant density with sample aerial survey data using the strip transect sampling method.
  • Identify the advantages and disadvantages of different survey methods.
  • Analyze and interpret gel electrophoresis results to determine relationships between individuals and populations.
  • Use allele frequencies to calculate the probability of two individuals sharing the same genetic profile.
  • Explain how the geographic and genetic distances between two populations are related.
  • Explain how genetic data helps law enforcement officers and conservationists decide where to target their efforts.

Lab 5: Community and Ecosystem Ecology

By completing the resources in this lab (resources 12–14 in this playlist), students will be able to:

  • Make connections between climate, vegetation, and biodiversity to describe biome characteristics.
  • Identify the types of data needed to test different niche partitioning mechanisms.
  • Make claims and offer explanations based on authentic field data.
  • Identify limitations of traditional forms of data collection.
  • Use DNA sequence data to identify animal and plant species.
  • Analyze data using statistical methods.
  • Predict whether different organisms in an ecosystem have positive or negative effects on other organisms in that ecosystem.
  • Predict how an ecosystem may change when a particular organism is introduced or removed, based on the evidence provided.

Lab 6: Human Impacts

By completing the resources in this lab (resources 15–20 in this playlist), students will be able to:

  • Describe recent patterns and trends in atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations.
  • Explain the role of atmospheric CO2 in ocean acidification.
  • Explain the role of atmospheric CO2 in global warming.
  • Explain how similarities or differences in traits can evolve as adaptations to similar or different environmental conditions.
  • Use scientific observations to explain how a population changes over time due to human impacts.
  • Explain how the selective pressures on a population may impact the frequencies of phenotypes in a population.
  • Analyze quantitative data in order to make predictions based on evidence.

Lab 5: Biotechnology

By completing the resources in this lab (resources 11–14 in this playlist), students will be able to:

  • Describe how recombinant DNA technology is used to produce transgenic organisms.
  • Explain how transgenic organisms can be used to explore biological processes.
  • Explain how light production through a reporter gene is used as an external marker of internal molecular events.
  • Collect and analyze data, including graphs.
  • Apply knowledge of DNA structure, function, and base pairing to describe how CRISPR-Cas9 can be used to inactivate and edit genes.
  • Compare two different models of a biological process.
  • Explore different types of research projects that apply CRISPR-Cas9 technology.
Creating Phylogenetic Trees from DNA Sequences
Topic
Biochemistry & Molecular Biology
Evolution
Resource Type
Interactive Media

This Click & Learn is the first resource in Lab 1: Evolution. It has students analyze DNA sequences to infer evolutionary relationships among organisms and represent those relationships as phylogenetic trees.

To use this resource as part of Lab 1, have students complete the Click & Learn and its associated worksheet.

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

This virtual lab is the second resource in Lab 1: Evolution. It has students apply the knowledge they gained from the previous resource to exploring the evolution of the anole lizards in the Caribbean.

To use this resource as part of Lab 1:

  • Ask students to complete Modules 1–3, where they use morphology and DNA analysis to investigate questions of natural selection and evolution among populations of Caribbean anoles. It is highly recommended that students complete the measurement tutorials before taking measurements in the modules.
  • Have students complete the sections of the accompanying worksheet for Modules 1–3.
Virus Explorer
Topic
Microbiology
Resource Type
Interactive Media

This Click & Learn is the first resource in Lab 2: Viruses. It has students explore the diversity of viruses based on structure, genome type, host range, transmission mechanism, and vaccine availability.

To use this resource as part of Lab 2, have students explore the Click & Learn and complete the associated worksheet. The extension activity at the end of the worksheet is optional; you may want to assign it if students don’t have a strong understanding of relative size.

Patterns of Zoonotic Disease
Topic
Microbiology
Science Practices
Resource Type
Activities

This Data Point activity is the second resource in Lab 2: Viruses. It has students analyze a published scientific figure from a study on the global distribution of zoonotic pathogens and their host species.

To use this resource as part of Lab 2, use the questions in the “Educator Materials” to guide a class discussion. The full scientific paper is also available from this resource’s webpage; it can be used to give the students an opportunity to practice reading primary literature.

Epidemiology of Nipah Virus
Topic
Microbiology
Science Practices
Resource Type
Activities

This activity is the third resource in Lab 2: Viruses. It has students analyze evidence, perform calculations and make predictions based on real-world data about a viral outbreak. Part of the activity involves watching the related video Virus Hunter: Monitoring Nipah Virus in Bat Populations.

To use this resource as part of Lab 2, have students complete the “Student Handout.”

You can supplement this lab by having students research recent viral outbreaks. They can write a mini-case study (using Part 1 of this activity as a template) to demonstrate the knowledge they’ve gained from this lab.

Winogradsky Columns: Microbial Ecology in the Classroom
Topic
Microbiology
Science Practices
Resource Type
Activities

This activity is the first resource in Lab 3: Microbes. It has students build their own Winogradsky columns, which provide visual examples of the diverse modes of metabolism in the microbial world.

To use this resource as part of Lab 3:

  • Have students build Winogradsky columns following the instructions in the “Student Activity” document. If students are not able to build their own columns, you could ask them to analyze Figure 1 from this paper as an alternative. 
  • Have students set up their columns at the start of the semester so they can collect data throughout the semester. 
  • Instruct students to take a picture of their column every week and record changes in the column as they occur.
Winogradsky Column: Microbial Ecology in a Bottle
Topic
Microbiology
Earth Science
Resource Type
Interactive Media

This Click & Learn is the second resource in Lab 3: Microbes. It has students explore a virtual Winogradsky column, which can be used to learn about the diversity of microbes and microbial metabolic strategies.

To use this resource as part of Lab 3: 

  • Have students explore the Click & Learn with the goal of labeling their pictures of the columns they built in the previous activity.
  • Once the layers start to emerge in the columns they built, have students measure the thickness of the layers as another way to strengthen their observation skills.
  • Have students use the Click & Learn to label regions of their column. They should include the sulfide and oxygen gradients, as well as the energy and carbon source for each layer.
Origins of Antibiotic Resistance
Topic
Microbiology
Science Practices
Resource Type
Activities

This Data Point activity is the third resource in Lab 3: Microbes. It has students analyze a published scientific figure from a study that looked at antibiotic resistance among bacteria that have never been exposed to antibiotics.

To use this resource as part of Lab 3, use the questions in the “Educator Materials” to guide a class discussion about the evolution of antibiotic resistance. Make sure to point out that not all bacteria cause disease; many bacteria, like the ones studied in the Winogradsky columns, are harmless or even beneficial.

You can supplement the lab by having students research ways in which microbes are helpful to humans or other animals. They can use the I Contain Multitudes video series as a starting point for their research.

The Great Elephant Census
Topic
Ecology
Environmental Science
Resource Type
Videos

This video is the first resource in Lab 4: Population Ecology. It shows some of the methods that scientists are using to census African elephant populations.

To use this resource as part of Lab 4, have students watch the video as context for the Survey Methods Click & Learn (resource 10 in this playlist).

Survey Methods
Topic
Ecology
Environmental Science
Science Practices
Resource Type
Interactive Media

This Click & Learn is the second resource in Lab 4: Population Ecology. It has students explore methods used to survey large animal populations, and what they have revealed about the current state of the African elephant population.

To use this resource as part of Lab 4, have students complete the Click & Learn and its accompanying worksheet.

As a supplemental idea, if students have access to a small plot of land (as small as 1 m2), you can direct them to survey a small local plant or insect using the total count and sample count methods described in the Click & Learn. Students can then discuss (or analyze) the two different methods with respect to accuracy and time needed.

CSI Wildlife
Topic
Biochemistry & Molecular Biology
Genetics
Environmental Science
Resource Type
Interactive Media

This Click & Learn is the third resource in Lab 4: Population Ecology. It has students track information about elephant poaching using DNA profiling.

To use this resource as part of Lab 4:

  • Review the three student handouts and select the one that is most appropriate for your course outcomes.
  • Have students complete the Click & Learn and the accompanying handout you chose.
Exploring Biomes in Gorongosa National Park
Topic
Ecology
Science Practices
Resource Type
Activities

This activity is the first resource in Lab 5: Community and Ecosystem Ecology. It has students explore the concept of biomes, using Gorongosa National Park as a case study. Part of the activity involves exploring the Gorongosa National Park Interactive Map.

To use this resource as part of Lab 5, have students complete the student document for the activity. For the graph in question 6, students can use a graphing software such as Google Sheets or Microsoft Excel in lieu of drawing in the document.

Niche Partitioning and DNA Metabarcoding
Topic
Biochemistry & Molecular Biology
Anatomy & Physiology
Ecology
Resource Type
Interactive Media

This Click & Learn is the second resource in Lab 5: Community and Ecosystem Ecology. It has students explore niche partitioning, a mechanism that enables similar species of animals to coexist.

To use this resource as part of Lab 5, have students complete the Click & Learn and its associated worksheet.

Exploring Trophic Cascades
Topic
Anatomy & Physiology
Ecology
Resource Type
Interactive Media

This Click & Learn is the third resource in Lab 5: Community and Ecosystem Ecology. It has students explore examples of how changes in the population numbers of one species can affect species at other trophic levels and ultimately the entire ecosystem.

To use this resource as part of Lab 5, assign each of the four case studies in the Click & Learn to small groups of students. Each group should work together to present the information from their case study and address discussion questions of your choice. Examples of discussion questions are shown below.

General

Define the term “trophic cascade.”

Arctic Tundra Case Study

  • What is the effect of foxes on seabirds? Why?
  • What effect do seabirds have on soil nutrients? Why?
  • What effect do soil nutrients have on grass? Why?
  • Describe the picture at the end of the case study that illustrates the result of adding foxes to an arctic tundra ecosystem, and explain this result.

African Savanna Case Study

  • What is the effect of the rinderpest virus on the wildebeest population? Why?
  • What is the effect of vegetation on the frequency and intensity of fires? Why?
  • Describe the graph at the end of the case study that illustrates the effect of eradicating rinderpest through a vaccination program. Explain why this would be the result of eliminating the virus.

Midwestern Lake Case Study

  • What is the effect of bass on minnows? Why?
  • What is the effect of phytoplankton (photosynthetic microorganisms) on carbon influx — that is, removing carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere? Why?
  • What effect does the bass have on the amount of carbon stored in the lake? Why?

Venezuelan Jungle Case Study

  • What effect do predators, such as jaguars, have on vegetation? Why?
  • What effect would the disappearance of predators have on the structure of the forest?
  • What effect would the decline of herbivores have on the ecosystem?
Trends in Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide
Topic
Environmental Science
Earth Science
Science Practices
Resource Type
Activities

This Data Point activity is the first resource in Lab 6: Human Impacts. It has students analyze a published scientific figure from a classic study that measured atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide.

To use this resource as part of Lab 6, use the questions in the “Educator Materials” to guide a class discussion.

Ocean Acidification
Topic
Environmental Science
Science Practices
Resource Type
Activities

This activity is the second resource in Lab 6: Human Impacts. It has students simulate the effects of decreasing pH caused by rising levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide.

To use this resource as part of Lab 6:

  • Have students reflect on one of the impacts of carbon dioxide increases, ocean acidification, by looking at the accompanying poster. 
  • Ask students to answer the following question: How does increasing CO2 levels affect the pH of ocean water, and how does that impact calcium-carbonate-shell-building organisms living in the ocean? 
  • Alternatively, have students read the introduction of the “Student Handout” and answer questions 3, 4, 5, 7, and 8.
Steve Palumbi & Megan Morikawa Study Coral Reef Damage in American Samoa
Topic
Environmental Science
Science Practices
Resource Type
Videos

This video is the third resource in Lab 6: Human Impacts. The video describes the work of biologists researching the mechanisms that allow some corals to tolerate a greater amount of heat stress than other corals.

To use this resource as part of Lab 6, have students watch the video and complete the associated worksheet.

Resistance to Coral Bleaching
Topic
Environmental Science
Science Practices
Resource Type
Activities

This Data Point activity is the fourth resource in Lab 6: Human Impacts. It has students analyze a figure from a scientific paper that was published by Steve Palumbi, one of the scientists featured in the previous resource.

To use this resource as part of Lab 6, use the first three discussion questions in the “Educator Materials” to guide a class discussion.

Analyzing Data on Tuskless Elephants
Topic
Evolution
Science Practices
Resource Type
Activities

This activity is the fifth resource in Lab 6: Human Impacts. It has students analyze data to make evidence-based claims about the occurrence of tusklessness in elephant populations.

To use this resource as part of Lab 6, have students work through the activity and view the associated film Selection for Tuskless Elephants (resource 20 in this playlist). This allows students to reflect on human impacts other than global warming that affect our planet.

Selection for Tuskless Elephants
Topic
Anatomy & Physiology
Evolution
Environmental Science
Resource Type
Videos

This video is the sixth resource in Lab 6: Human Impacts. The video follows scientists working in Gorongosa National Park, who made the striking observation that many female elephants in the park lack tusks.

To use this resource as part of Lab 6, tell students that the elephants in the video are adapting to a human impact, whereas the corals shown previously (resources 17 and 18 in this playlist) were acclimating to a human impact. Ask students to write a brief summary comparing and contrasting the terms “adaptation” and “acclimation.”

You can supplement this lab by pointing out that humans have an impact on many organisms, not just elephants and corals. Have students observe areas around their home and identify ways that humans may be negatively impacting their local flora and fauna. You may want to provide them with an example to help them get started — for example, roadkill along the highway or planting of invasive plants.