EVOLUTION IN ACTION: GRAPHING AND STATISTICS

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1 Species The MThe aking of the offittest: The Making of the Fittest: TheSelection Natural nd Finch Adaptation Natural Selection and Adaptation EVOLUTION IN ACTION: GRAPHING AND STATISTICS OVERVIEW This activity serves as a supplement to the film The of Species: The Beak of the Finch (http://www.hhmi.org/biointeractive/origin-species-beak-finch) and provides students with the opportunity to develop their quantitative skills by analyzing a small sample of data collected by Princeton University evolutionary biologists Peter and Rosemary Grant. The Grants have provided morphological measurements, including wing length, body mass, and beak depth, taken from a sample of 100 male medium ground finches (Geospiza fortis) living on the island of Daphne Major in the Galápagos archipelago. All the finches were born between the years of 1973 and The complete data set of 100 birds is available in the accompanying Excel spreadsheet. In this activity, students are guided through a number of exercises to analyze this sample of the Grants data by interpreting graphs, calculating descriptive statistics, interpreting descriptive statistics, and graphing. In Part A of this activity, students familiarize themselves with the data set through a guided classroom discussion (see Procedure below). In Part B, they analyze graphs representing the distributions of beak depth measurements in two groups of finches: one group of 50 finches that perished during a severe drought in 1977 (nonsurvivors) and one group of 50 finches that survived the drought (survivors). The students then suggest hypotheses to explain the trends illustrated in the graphs. The hypotheses should be based on students understanding of natural selection and that it acts on the existing variation in heritable traits in a population. In Part C, students further analyze a subsample of beak depth measurements from each group to explore the effect of sample size on descriptive statistics. One subsample includes five randomly selected birds and the other 15 randomly selected birds. Students are asked to identify any differences in the means and standard deviations among samples of different sizes. Finally, in Part D students construct bar graphs to compare wing length and body mass data between survivors and nonsurvivors. They are then asked to construct scientific explanations using the data in their graphs as evidence for how and why some characteristics may be adaptive in certain environments. KEY CONCEPTS AND LEARNING OBJECTIVES Evolution by way of natural selection can only occur if heritable traits vary among individuals in a population. In a given environment, individuals with one form of a trait may be able to better exploit some aspects of the environment than individuals with other forms of the trait can. Natural selection involves the differential survival and reproduction of individuals with different heritable traits. Evolution occurs when inherited traits in a population change over successive generations. Graphing allows scientists to more readily identify patterns and trends in data, including in ecological and population data. Page 1 of 9

2 Species The MThe aking of the offittest: The Making of the Fittest: TheSelection Natural nd Finch Adaptation Natural Selection and Adaptation After completing this activity, students should be able to: Analyze frequency distribution graphs (i.e. histograms) and identify and describe patterns in the data displayed in these types of graphs. Use descriptive statistics (mean and standard deviation) to compare and contrast two sets of similar data. Explain the importance of sample size for drawing conclusions about a population. Graph primary research data and appropriately label all graph components, including title, axes, units, and legend. Identify the adaptive traits that are most important to survival under specific environmental conditions. CURRICULUM CONNECTIONS Curriculum NGSS (April 2013) Standards HS-LS4-2, HS-LS4-3, HS-LS4-4, HS-LS4-5, HS-LS4.B, HS-LS4.C, Science and Engineering Practices A.1, 1.A.4, 1.C.1, 1.C.2, Science Practice 5 Topic 1, 5.1, 5.4, D2 AP ( ) IB (2009) TIME REQUIREMENT This activity is designed to be completed in one 50-minute classroom period but may also require a small amount of homework. Viewing the short film prior to the activity, which is highly recommended, requires an additional 15 minutes. The film may be viewed at the beginning of the classroom period or assigned as homework the night before. SUGGESTED AUDIENCE This activity was designed for a high school college preparatory biology course but may also be appropriate for any high school biology or undergraduate biology or ecology class. PRIOR KNOWLEDGE It would be helpful for students to have some prior knowledge of constructing graphs and a basic understanding of descriptive statistics (mean, variance, standard deviation) and the concept of making and justifying claims using experimental evidence and scientific reasoning. Students should also have a general understanding of genetic and evolutionary theory, including concepts like adaptation, fitness, and natural selection. MATERIALS Scientific calculator and graphing paper or a computer with a spreadsheet program like Excel or Google spreadsheet Colored pencils for graphing if not using a computer Ruler for graphing if not using a computer Page 2 of 9

3 Species The MThe aking of the offittest: The Making of the Fittest: TheSelection Natural nd Finch Adaptation Natural Selection and Adaptation TEACHING TIPS You may modify this activity by having students construct the graphs provided in Part B using the data in the accompanying Excel spreadsheets. This activity was designed to be modular. You may choose to do just one part, two, or all three. You may also choose to do parts of this activity and parts of the related activity Evolution in Action: Statistical Analysis. For additional background information on the Grants work, consult the In-Depth Film Guide available at You may also consider having your students read the background section of the In-Depth Guide. PROCEDURE 1. It is highly recommended for students to see the film The Beak of the Finch (http://www.hhmi.org/biointeractive/originspecies-beak-finch) before doing this activity. The students may watch the film in class or as homework the day before. 2. After students have watched the film, show them the data in the accompanying Excel activity and explain what the data represents. 3. Part A: Lead a brief class discussion about the data: Ask students to identify some trends and patterns they see in the data. Are all the birds of similar size? What measurements seem to vary the most from individual to individual? Why do you think the sample only includes adult birds? Do you see any differences between the group of finches that only lived until 1977 and the finches that lived to 1978 and beyond? This is a sample of only 100 birds, but we know from the film that the Grants collected data on almost the entire population of medium ground finches on Daphne Major. Most researchers typically collect data from samples rather than the entire population. Why do you think that is? What are some advantages and disadvantages of using samples in research? Note to teachers: The birds in this sample data set consist of a mix of males, females, and birds of undetermined sex. 4. Once students have had a chance to explore the data set and ask questions about it, have them answer the questions in the Student Handout. Answers to those questions are provided below. Page 3 of 9

4 Species The MThe aking of the offittest: The Making of the Fittest: TheSelection Natural nd Finch Adaptation Natural Selection and Adaptation ANSWER KEY Part B: Analyzing Graphical Data Beak Depths of 50 Medium Ground Finches That Did Not Survive the Drought Beak Depths of 50 Medium Ground Finches That Survived the Drought Figure 1. The two graphs above show the beak depths, measured in mm, of 100 medium ground finches from Daphne Major. Fifty birds did not survive the drought of 1977 (top graph). The other 50 birds survived the drought and were still alive in 1978 (bottom graph). Page 4 of 9

5 Species The MThe aking of the offittest: The Making of the Fittest: TheSelection Natural nd Finch Adaptation Natural Selection and Adaptation 1. a. What observations can you make about the overall shape of each graph? (Imagine that you are drawing a line that connects the tops of the horizontal bars.) Students should indicate that the shapes of the distributions look like bell curves or hills. Some students may also know that this is a normal distribution. b. What do the shapes of the two graphs indicate about the distribution of beak depth measurements in these two groups of medium ground finches? The shapes of the graphs reveal that there is variability in the beak depth trait among the birds and that most birds have beak depth measurements that cluster around the mean. 2. Compare the distribution of beak depths between survivors and nonsurvivors. In your answer, include the shape of the distributions, the range of the data, and the most common measurements. Both survivors and nonsurvivors have similar shapes of distributions for the beak depth measurements; however, the distributions are shifted in the two graphs.the range of beak depths for the nonsurviving birds was between 7.25 mm and mm, and more than half of the nonsurviving birds had beak depths between 8.5 mm and 9.5 mm. The most common beak depths for the nonsurviving birds were 8.5 mm and 9 mm. By contrast, beak depths of the birds that survived the drought ranged from 8.0 mm to mm, more than half the birds had beak depths between 9.5 mm and 10.5 mm, and the most common beak depth in the 1978 population was 10 mm. 3. Based on what you saw in the film, think about how changes in the environment may have affected which birds survived the drought. Propose a hypothesis to explain differences in the distribution of beak depths between survivors and nonsurvivors. Answers may vary, but expect the students to remember enough of the film to explain that the change in food source for the birds during the drought from small, soft seeds to large, hard seeds may have selected for birds with larger beak depths. Birds with larger beaks were better able to use these large seeds as food (i.e., they were better adapted) than were birds with smaller beaks. 4. Let s look in more detail at the mean beak depths in the two groups of birds to understand the meaning of standard deviation. a. How do the mean beak depths and standard deviations of the mean beak depths compare? The mean beak depth for the nonsurviving birds was 9.11 mm, whereas the mean beak depth for the surviving birds was 9.67 mm, an increase of approximately 6%. The standard deviations for the two groups were nearly the same: 0.84 and 0.88 for the nonsurviving birds and surviving birds, respectively. b. If the standard deviation of the two samples were to be vastly different, what would you conclude about the two groups? If two data sets have similar standard deviations, it means that the two data sets have the same amount of variability compared to the mean of each data set. In other words, the data are equally spread out. If the standard deviations are different, the data set with the larger standard deviation has more variability compared to its mean. In other words, the data points in the data set with the larger standard deviation are more spread out than the data points in the data set with the smaller standard deviation; each measurement agrees more closely with the mean for the data set. Page 5 of 9

6 Species The MThe aking of the offittest: The Making of the Fittest: TheSelection Natural nd Finch Adaptation Natural Selection and Adaptation Part C: Examining the Importance of Sample Size Table 1. Beak Depths in Two Samples of Finches That Did Not Survive the Drought and Two Samples That Did Nonsurvivors Survivors 5-finch sample 15-finch sample 5-finch sample 15-finch sample Bird ID # Beak Depth (mm) Bird ID # Beak Depth (mm) Bird ID # Beak Depth (mm) Bird ID # Beak Depth (mm) s 1.15 s 0.98 s 1.06 s For each sample, calculate the mean beak depth and standard deviation (s) and add those numbers to the tables. Page 6 of 9

7 Species The MThe aking of the offittest: The Making of the Fittest: TheSelection Natural nd Finch Adaptation Natural Selection and Adaptation 6. Record the means and standard deviations for each sample of survivors and nonsurvivors in Figure 1 from Part B (50 birds) and Table 1 in Part C (5 and 15 birds) in Table 2 below. Table 2. Beak Depths for 50-, 15-, and 5-Finch Samples of Birds That Survived and Did Not Survive the Drought Standard deviation 50-finch sample 15-finch sample 5-finch sample 50-finch sample 15-finch sample Nonsurvivors 9.11 mm 9.11 mm 8.78 mm 0.88 mm 0.98 mm Survivors 9.67 mm 9.56 mm 9.78 mm 0.84 mm 0.90 mm 5-finch sample 1.15 mm 1.06 mm 7. Compare the mean and standard deviation for each sample size (5 birds, 15 birds, and 50 birds) within each group of survivors and nonsurvivors. a. Are the means in smaller samples different from the means in larger samples? Explain why you think that is. Except for the nonsurvivor sample size of 15, none of the means match the mean beak depths of the 50-bird samples. The means are different because each set of birds was randomly selected from the larger group, and since there is significant variation in the beak depth in the population it is unlikely that the mean of any smaller sample will match the mean of the larger group. b. Are the standard deviations in smaller samples different from standard deviations in larger samples? Explain why you think that is. In this particular example, the standard deviations of both groups of birds decrease with increased sample size. Students explanations will vary and may reveal a misunderstanding of how standard deviation responds to sample size. Standard deviation is a measure of the amount of variation in a population. Some students may say that standard deviation increases with a smaller sample size, but standard deviation can increase or decrease with a smaller sample size because of sampling the chance of having a sample that does not accurately represent the entire population. (Standard error, on the other hand, tends to increase with smaller sample sizes.) 8. Which results (i.e., from 5, 15, or 50 birds) do you think are closer to the means and standard deviations of the entire population of medium ground finches on the whole island? Explain your answer. Students should indicate that in general the larger samples should provide means and standard deviation values that are closer to those of the population as a whole. 9. What is one advantage and one disadvantage of calculating the mean from a sample of a population rather than the entire population? An advantage may include lower cost and less time; it is usually not feasible to collect data on an entire population if the population is large and spread out. One disadvantage is that the data obtained from a sample may not be reflective of the population as a whole. Page 7 of 9

8 Species The MThe aking of the offittest: The Making of the Fittest: TheSelection Natural nd Finch Adaptation Natural Selection and Adaptation Part D: Adaptive Traits and Constructing Graphs body mass for medium ground finches that did not survive the 1977 drought (nonsurviors) and those that did survive the drought (survivors) wing length for medium ground finches that did not survive the 1977 drought (nonsurvivors) and those that did survive the drought (survivors) 11. Based on the graphs you have drawn, how does wing length compare between survivors and nonsurvivors? What about body mass? The surviving medium ground finches had slightly longer wings and slightly larger body masses than medium ground finches that did not survive the drought of Page 8 of 9

9 Species The MThe aking of the offittest: The Making of the Fittest: TheSelection Natural nd Finch Adaptation Natural Selection and Adaptation STUDENT HANDOUT BASIC ACTIVITY 12. What do the results illustrated by your graphs indicate about the effects of the drought on birds with particular wing lengths and body masses? The results suggest that it may have been an advantage during the drought to have a larger body mass and longer wings. Students may also point out that larger birds probably also have larger wings and larger beaks, and are thus more likely to survive. 13. The Grants say in the film that a key trait that made the difference in survival for the birds during the drought was beak depth. Is that conclusion consistent with the data presented in this activity (including Part B)? Explain your answer. Beak depth was larger for the surviving birds compared to the birds that did not survive. However, body mass and wing length were also larger among survivors. It could be that larger beaked birds simply have larger body masses and longer wings. All three traits could be important in survival. 14. Explain why the Grants concluded that beak depth may have played a more important role in survival during the drought than wing length or body mass. Correctly use the terms natural selection, adaptation, and fitness in your answer. The major environmental change caused by the drought was a change in food source. The larger beaks of some medium ground finches became advantageous when the small, soft seeds disappeared and only large, hard seeds remained. Birds with larger beaks were able to use large, hard seeds as a food source and were therefore more likely to survive the drought and reproduce than were birds with smaller beaks. Therefore, large-beaked birds were more fit than small-beaked birds. Because the survival challenge posed by the 1977 drought had to do with a change in the food supply, natural selection probably acted primarily on beak depth, not wing length or body mass. An explanation for why wing length and body mass were also greater for surviving birds may be that birds with larger beaks were also larger overall they had longer wings and were heavier than birds with smaller beaks. Students may also indicate that having a larger body mass may have helped birds withstand lack of food better than birds with smaller body mass. 15. Explain the role of variation in important traits (like beak depth) in a population for the survival of a species. Students should indicate in their own words that variation among individuals in important traits like beak depth makes it more likely that at least one form of the trait will be good enough for individuals to successfully survive a change in their environment. AUTHORS Written by Paul Strode, PhD, Fairview High School, Boulder, Colorado Edited by Laura Bonetta, PhD, HHMI, and Ann Brokaw, Rocky River High School, Ohio Reviewed by Brad Williamson, University of Kansas; Peter Grant, PhD, and Rosemary Grant, PhD, Princeton University Evolution in Action: The Galápagos Finches Page 9 of 9

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