Nature’s Evolutionary Gems

A pdf Resource for Teachers wishing to spread Awareness of Evolution by Natural Selection

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www.nature.com/evolutiongems

In this celebratory year of the Birth of Charles Darwin and the publication of his On the Origin of Species, it is fitting that the January 1 issue of the journal Nature announces a document “for teachers and others wishing to spread awareness of evolution by natural selection.”  The document is accessible at the link above, which forwards one to a seventeen page pdf file

The document includes student-friendly “editorial introductions” to 15 papers that have been published in Nature during the past decade.  These papers were selected “to illustrate the breadth, depth and power of evolutionary thinking”, and cover natural selection from the perspectives of the Fossil Record, Habitats, and Molecular Processes.  The specific titles are given by clicking the more link at the end of this post. 

Each abstract is formatted to a single page, and is followed by a link to the orginal paper, links to additional resources (which may not be accessible), and a link to the website(s) of the author(s).  For those that don’t have a subscription to the journal, many of the links to abstracts of the original research papers provide access to the full text and a freely downloadable pdf .  Happy readings!

Nature, thanks for compiling this fitting and freely available educational resource!  It is a wonderful New Years Gift!

Continue reading “Nature’s Evolutionary Gems”

Darwin and Wallace: Books Reviewed (in part)

A few years ago one of my more accomplished students was kind enough to give me a parting gift of David Quammen’s The Song of the Dodo, and even though the book is more generally about the scientific development of Island Biogeography (as the subtitle states), the authors historical accounts of the concept inspired an interest in Alfred Wallace. More recently, I have read David Quammen’s The Reluctant Mr. Darwin and Peter Raby’s biography Alfred Russel Wallace: A Life both of which contain information relevant to understanding the relationship between the icons of evolutionary biology, Darwin and Wallace.

In the first of Quammen’s books mentioned, he suggests a conspiracy, of sorts, that Darwin used to maintain his priority over the concept of natural selection.

“Then one day Darwin received a manuscript in the mail from a young, obscure naturalist named Wallace – and the Wallace manuscript, to Darwin’s horror, contained his own precious concept. Wallace had found his way to it independently. For a brief heartsick period, Darwin believed that the younger man had eclipsed him and preempted his life’s work by staking a just claim to priority. As things developed, however, with Joseph Hooker’s collusion, Wallace and Darwin announced the concept simultaneously. For a variety of reasons, some good and some shabby, Darwin received most of the recognition; and Wallace, in consequence, is famous for being obscured.” p 20-21 of Song of the Dodo

Quammen more fully develops this potential conspiracy in a detailed discussion of the correspondence that occurred between Darwin, Lyell, Hooker, and Wallace that informed the later of the now famous arrangement presenting an excerpt of Darwin’s 1844 essay along with Wallace’s paper to the Linnean Society of London on July 1, 1858.

“Darwin was understandably abashed and tried to portray himself as a passive party swept along by events… a claim that is weaselly at best and arguably untrue, given his strong hints and lamentations to both men (Hooker and Lyell).” p 168 of The Reluctant Mr. Darwin

Quammen does reference the known correspondence to build his case, and does concede that the actual letters to Wallace have been lost and that Darwin was dealing with the loss of one of his children during this period (which I imagine was quite important in his leaving things to Lyell and Hooker).

Obviously, Quammen’s words and evidence made me contemplate and question the motives, honor, etc… of this great man, a human all the same. But, I was happy to read Raby’s biography of Wallace where he presents another perspective on the relationship between these two great men. In contrast, some of his accounts rescued Darwin’s qualities from Quammen argument.

Continue reading “Darwin and Wallace: Books Reviewed (in part)”

Speciation Related Activities

On the classroom side of things, I have developed/modified the following assignments and activities in recent years in the hopes of highlighting the importance of Wallace and biogeography to evolutionary theory, and giving my students real world examples that they can work through to infer the process of speciation that Darwin and Wallace first uncovered.  Suggestions for improvement are welcome, as are posts of the assignments that you use to teach these concepts.

Assignments

1) Wallace’s Line accompanying article Mr Wallace’s Line by Jared Diamond in Discover, August, 1997.

Activities

Although these activities don’t relate directly to Wallace’s travels in South America or the Malay Archipelago they are some of the activities that I have used to introduce plate tectonics and speciation.  The two activities on the Hawaiian Islands were adapted from activities and information from Evolution in Hawaii: A Supplement to Teaching about Evolution and the Nature of Science from the National Academies Press.  The Salamander Speciation activity was adapted from an adaptation of Investigation 9.4 in Biological Science: An Ecological Approach (BSCS Green Version), 1987, Kendall/Hunt Publishing Co.

The National Academies’ New Book

As related on national television tonight, The National Academies have released a new book titled “Science, Evolution, and Creationism”. You can purchase a copy or copies online or download a free pdf and print and read at your own leisure.

Description from the National Academies’ Website

How did life evolve on Earth? The answer to this question can help us understand our past and prepare for our future. Although evolution provides credible and reliable answers, polls show that many people turn away from science, seeking other explanations with which they are more comfortable.

In the book, Science, Evolution, and Creationism, a group of experts assembled by the National Academy of Sciences and the Institute of Medicine explain the fundamental methods of science, document the overwhelming evidence in support of biological evolution, and evaluate the alternative perspectives offered by advocates of various kinds of creationism, including “intelligent design.” The book explores the many fascinating inquiries being pursued that put the science of evolution to work in preventing and treating human disease, developing new agricultural products, and fostering industrial innovations. The book also presents the scientific and legal reasons for not teaching creationist ideas in public school science classes.

Mindful of school board battles and recent court decisions, Science, Evolution, and Creationism shows that science and religion should be viewed as different ways of understanding the world rather than as frameworks that are in conflict with each other and that the evidence for evolution can be fully compatible with religious faith. For educators, students, teachers, community leaders, legislators, policy makers, and parents who seek to understand the basis of evolutionary science, this publication will be an essential resource.