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Virtual Lab
Lizard Evolution Virtual Lab


The Lizard Evolution Virtual Lab was developed by a team of scientists, educators, graphic artists, and film makers to explore the evolution of the anole lizards in the Caribbean.

Enter Virtual Lab

The virtual lab includes four modules that investigate different concepts in evolutionary biology, including adaptation, convergent evolution, phylogenetic analysis, reproductive isolation, and speciation. Each module involves data collection, calculations, analysis and answering questions. The “Educators” tab includes lists of key concepts and learning objectives and detailed suggestions for incorporating the lab in your instruction.

It is appropriate for students in high school biology and environmental science classes, and undergraduate biology, ecology, environmental science courses. The focus on observation, measurement, and experimental methods makes the lab a good fit for addressing "science as a process" or "nature of science" aspects of the curriculum. The emphasis on the collection, analysis, and graphing of data, connects to the mathematical dimension of biology and general goals of STEM integration.

Download the accompanying PDF worksheet for students to complete as they go through the Virtual Lab.

Key Concepts:

  • An adaptation is a structure or function that confers greater ability to survive and reproduce in a particular environment. (Modules 1 and 3)
  • DNA sequence comparisons among different populations and species allow scientists to determine how distantly related different species are and how long ago they split from a common ancestor. (Module 2)
  • Different species can independently evolve similar traits by adapting to similar environments or ecological niches in a phenomenon known as convergent evolution. (Module 2)
  • The biological definition of a species is a group of interbreeding individuals that are reproductively, and thus genetically, isolated from other groups. (Module 4)
  • When two groups within one species become geographically isolated—separated by a physical barrier, such as a river, canyon, or mountain range—genetic changes in one group will not be shared with members of the other, and vice versa. Over many generations, the two groups diverge as their traits change in different ways. (Modules 3 and 4)
  • For two groups to become distinct species, traits must change in ways that will keep members of each group reproductively isolated—meaning that they will not mate or produce fertile offspring with members of the other group—even if they come to be in the same geographic location. (Module 4)
  • Graphing data is an important way to objectively document differences and similarities. It can make it easier to spot patterns that would otherwise be difficult to see in tables of measurements or direct observations. (Modules 1, 3, and 4)
  • Statistical tools provide a way to quantify variability in biological data and describe the degree of uncertainty in the results obtained using these data. (Modules 3 and 4)

Curriculum Connections:

NGSS (April 2013):
MS-LS1-5, MS-LS4-2, MS-LS4-4, MS-LS4.A, MS-LS4.B, MA-LS4.C, HS-LS4-1, HS-LS4-2, HS-LS4-3, HS-LS4-4, HS-LS4-5, HS-LS4.B, HS-LS4.C, HS-LS4.D

AP (2012-13):
1.A.1, 1.A.2, 1.A.4, 1.B.2, 1.C.1, 1.C.2, 1.C.3, S.P.1, S.P.2, S.P.4, S.P.5, S.P.6

IB (2009):
5.1, 5.4, D2, D5

Supporting Materials (5)

Classroom Resource
This activity supports the film The Origin of Species: Lizards in an Evolutionary Tree. Students are asked to formulate a hypothesis, and collect and analyze real research data to understand how quickly natural selection can act on a population.  
Classroom Resource
This activity supports the film The Origin of Species: Lizards in an Evolutionary Tree. Students are guided to sort the lizard species by appearance, then generate a phylogenetic tree using the lizards’ DNA sequences to evaluate whether species that appear similar are closely related to each other.
This animation features the anole lizards as an example of how a single species can split and multiply into many different species with distinct traits.
Film Guides
The following classroom-ready resources complement The Origin of Species: Lizards in an Evolutionary Tree. Research on the anole lizards is enriching our understanding of evolutionary processes, such as adaptation by natural selection, convergent evolution, and the formation of new species.
Short Film
In the Caribbean islands, adaptation to several common habitats has led to a large adaptive radiation with interesting examples of convergent evolution.

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