Mechanisms of Evolution

Rene Shroat-Lewis, University of Arkansas at Little Rock
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Initial Publication Date: May 29, 2014 | Reviewed: June 24, 2014


This exercise uses simple experiments to examine the process of natural selection, which is driven by variation in genetic traits within a population, the potential for offspring to inherit traits from their parents, and differential reproduction within a population (i.e. "survival of the fittest"). Using this exercise students see how adaptation to the environment increases the potential for survival.

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Undergraduate course in historical geology or paleontology

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

Must have an understanding of the process of natural selection

How the activity is situated in the course

I use this activity when discussing Charles Darwin and natural selection. It can be broken into pieces or used in complete form.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

To have students see in a short time period how natural selection works.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

Data analysis is simple for this activity. It requires nothing more than plotting percentages of survivors.

Other skills goals for this activity

Students work in groups as predators that consume the prey.

Description and Teaching Materials

Natural Selection Exercise (Acrobat (PDF) 102kB May29 14)
Data Analysis Sheet (Acrobat (PDF) 27kB May29 14)

Teaching Notes and Tips


I discuss the outcome of this activity with the groups. I provide 6 different environments and the students then compare the results of each.

References and Resources