How to (or not) help an endangered species
The purpose of this exercise is to let students discuss a problem of conservation biology. Conservation biology is a rather new field in biology and it builds on the framework of the fields of genetics and ecology but also evolutionary theory. It is thus a perfect theme in order to let the students integrate their knowledge of different fields of biology and “get the whole picture”.
Although this exercise can be used as an introduction, it is my experience that the discussions are more rewarding if students know the relevant terminology. Thus, students are expected to have some notion of the vocabulary used (e.g. ecosystems, key species, inbreeding depression, pedigrees, mating behavior, food webs, species interactions and natural selection). Therefore, this exercise is best suited for 16 – 18 year old students late in their education.
The discussion centers on the re?discovery of a bird thought to be extinct – the Fork-tailed parakeet (here is a real example: http://www.birdlife.org/americas/news/extremely-rare-species-x-rediscovered-brazil-after-75-year-disappearance. The students receive little background information except a suggested location and the number of individuals of either sex. This is to avoid steering the students in any direction when it comes to the discussion. Hopefully, a number of different aspects of conservation biology arises and students get an idea of a complex but intriguing matter.
Preferably, introducing, discussing, and allowing the students to prepare and present their ideas should be spread out over several lessons in order for the students to get a grasp of the problem and potential solutions.
Several topics can be used as follow-ups or be added to the list of discussion suggestions:
- 1) How would a breeding program that minimizes inbreeding look like?
- 2) Would anything change if the species in question were a plant or insect?
- 3) Would anything change if the species in question had a use, e.g. in medicine or industry?
- As a concluding remark I find that this exercise is excellent in combining, not only several field of biology, but also economy and social sciences. Therefore, students are encouraged to think outside the specific subject and see the whole picture of things. In addition, an ethical aspect can easily be integrated in the discussions.
|STUDENT _Endangered species discussion_SMART_BP 289 KB|
|TEACHER's GUIDE - Endangered species discussion 283 KB|
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