Naturalist Perspectives Assignment 7: Evolution in the Landscape

Genetic classification of bees

As discussed in class, this assignment will take the place of an exam on evolution and ecology, so it’s more substantial and expectations will be accordingly higher. To complete this assignment (due May 3rd), you may utilize observations you’ve made in the past or go outdoors again.

  1. Pick an organism that you’ve seen at Site Alpha or Beta or another place you’ve visited for the Naturalist Perspectives portion of the course.
  2. Perform some informational research to see if you can find out the evolutionary history of this organism. Answer as many of the following questions through your research:
    • What is this organism’s ecological niche? Describe as much of it as you can. What evolutionary adaptations does this species have for its niche?
    • How old is this species or its family, evolutionarily speaking? Apidae family of bees, for example, arose about 87 million years ago, while it’s thought that the honey bee we know today came into being around 2-3 million years ago; contrast that with the Deep Look video below, which tells us that sea otters as a species are only about 1.6 million years old.
    • What selective pressures gave rise to this species? What selective pressures do you think are currently driving the evolution of this species?
    • Is this species the result of group selection? Why or why not?
    • What species are this organism most closely related to? What characteristics do these species have in common? Are any of these related species in competition with each other?
    • Is this group of related species the outcome of adaptive radiation? If so, what other species (extant or extinct) resulted from the adaptive radiation of an ancestral species? Are there any instances of character displacements that allow direct competition between species to be avoided?
    • What kind of common ancestor gave rise to all these related species? This might be a challenging question to answer, but see what you can find.
    • When did that common ancestor arise? The common ancestor of all bees, for example, appeared 135 million years ago.
    • How much has the species you’re considering changed from that common ancestor or another evolutionary ancestor? Here’s an interesting blog post on Tough Little Birds discussing some hummingbird anatomy in relation to their dinosaur ancestors.
  3. Write a blog post summarizing what you’ve been able to find out.

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