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Unit 4: Impacts of Environmental Change on Organisms: Horses

Camille Holmgren (SUNY Buffalo State)
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These materials have been reviewed for their alignment with the Next Generation Science Standards as detailed below. Visit InTeGrate and the NGSS to learn more.

Overview

Students explore changes in biodiversity through time using one group of animals, the Equidae, as a case study. They will use data to investigate the relationship between environmental conditions and Equidae morphology, diversity, and distribution through time. They will also connect the history of Equus (modern horses) to the controversial issue of Bureau of Land Management roundups and wild horse protection in North America.

Science and Engineering Practices

Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions: Construct an explanation that includes qualitative or quantitative relationships between variables that predict(s) and/or describe(s) phenomena. MS-P6.1:

Analyzing and Interpreting Data: Use graphical displays (e.g., maps, charts, graphs, and/or tables) of large data sets to identify temporal and spatial relationships. MS-P4.2:

Cross Cutting Concepts

Stability and Change: Small changes in one part of a system might cause large changes in another part. MS-C7.2:

Cause and effect: Empirical evidence is required to differentiate between cause and correlation and make claims about specific causes and effects. HS-C2.1:

Disciplinary Core Ideas

Evidence of Common Ancestry and Diversity: The collection of fossils and their placement in chronological order (e.g., through the location of the sedimentary layers in which they are found or through radioactive dating) is known as the fossil record. It documents the existence, diversity, extinction, and change of many life forms throughout the history of life on Earth. MS-LS4.A1:

Variation of Traits: Environmental factors also affect expression of traits, and hence affect the probability of occurrences of traits in a population. Thus the variation and distribution of traits observed depends on both genetic and environmental factors. HS-LS3.B2:

Biogeology: The many dynamic and delicate feedbacks between the biosphere and other Earth systems cause a continual co-evolution of Earth’s surface and the life that exists on it. HS-ESS2.E1:

Performance Expectations

Biological Evolution: Unity and Diversity: Evaluate the evidence supporting claims that changes in environmental conditions may result in: (1) increases in the number of individuals of some species, (2) the emergence of new species over time, and (3) the extinction of other species HS-LS4-5:

This material was developed and reviewed through the InTeGrate curricular materials development process. This rigorous, structured process includes:

  • team-based development to ensure materials are appropriate across multiple educational settings.
  • multiple iterative reviews and feedback cycles through the course of material development with input to the authoring team from both project editors and an external assessment team.
  • real in-class testing of materials in at least 3 institutions with external review of student assessment data.
  • multiple reviews to ensure the materials meet the InTeGrate materials rubric which codifies best practices in curricular development, student assessment and pedagogic techniques.
  • review by external experts for accuracy of the science content.


This page first made public: Apr 20, 2017

Summary

In this unit, students will gain a deep-time perspective on how life evolves on a dynamic planet. They will use the Equidae (horse family) as a case study to examine the relationship among climate, biomes, and fossils to determine how changing environmental conditions influenced horse morphology and diversity through time. After a brief introduction, students will work in groups to examine data and formulate ideas about why changing climatic conditions and an increase in grasslands led to changes in horse morphology and diversity. This example of adaptive radiation and extinction within one well-known group of organisms in response to changes in Earth's interrelated systems demonstrates how the geologic record provides an important context for understanding modern patterns of biodiversity. Students will also use the data to evaluate earlier and more recent ideas about Equidae evolution to appreciate how scientific ideas can change over time based on new evidence.

Learning Goals

Unit 4 Learning Outcomes
  1. Students will be able to describe how biodiversity increases with the evolution of new species and is decreased by extinction.
  2. Students will be able to evaluate evidence and propose ideas about why changing climatic conditions and an increase in grassland environments led to changes in horse morphology and diversity.
  3. Students will be able to recognize that scientific ideas are subject to change based on new evidence.
Overarching Module Goals

This unit directly supports multiple InTeGrate guiding principles and addresses grand challenges by helping students to recognize that Earth is a long-lived, dynamic system with multiple interacting spheres. Specifically, students will use authentic geoscience data to appreciate some of the Big Ideas of Earth Literacy, including that climate has varied over time (Big Idea #3.8), life on Earth depends on, and is shaped by, climate (Big Idea #3.6), and speciation and extinction have occurred throughout Earth's history (Big Idea #6.2). In addition, students gain a better understanding of the nature of geoscience and how scientific ideas can change over time as new evidence becomes available (Big Idea #1.7).

Context for Use

This unit is designed as the fourth unit in the Changing Biosphere Module, but it could be used on its own. The unit could be incorporated into any introductory geology, geography, biology, or integrated science class. If used as a stand-alone lesson, some background on speciation and extinction would be helpful. It can be used for a variety of class sizes and should take approximately 50 minutes for the introduction, case study, and reflective activity.

Description and Teaching Materials

Materials for this unit include a brief introductory PowerPoint, case study, reflective activity (found at end of case study), and study guide. Also provided is an additional section that can be used with longer class/lab periods. The case study is designed as a group in-class activity, but could be assigned individually. Alternatively, it could be assigned as homework, including the optional section on the history of modern Equus, and used as a jumping-off point for a discussion of native vs. non-native species and wild horse management issues.

Introduction: Diversity in the Horse Family through Time (5 min or more, depending on use of optional video)

Introduce the Equidae (horse family) and changes in relative diversity of taxa over time using the introductory slides:

The PowerPoint slides are designed to introduce the Equidae (horse family). Please see notes section on the PowerPoint for tips and guidelines.

For Slide 5, the instructor should explain that the horizontal lines represent time ranges of each genus or clade, and the black connecting lines show lineages, or descendant-offspring relationships, similar to family trees connecting someone to their parents, grandparents, etc. It may be helpful to tell students not to worry about the Latin names, just point out that they represent individual genera. If more background on understanding evolutionary trees is desired, the "Reading Trees" website under References and Resources below can be assigned prior to class.

Slide 7 contains a hyperlink to an optional video explaining natural selection. This is useful for courses that have not covered this topic. For 50-minute classes, this video could be assigned prior to class as a pre-class assignment. For slightly longer, 60-minute classes, the clip can be stopped at 6:12. In longer classes (~75-minutes or more), the entire video can be shown. Alternatively, for classes (biology, biogeography, paleontology, etc.) in which natural selection and evolution have been discussed in detail, the video could be omitted.

Slides 8–15 serve as a prompts for the activity, including discussion prompts where students will report out on their ideas before moving on.

Case Study: Climate, Biomes, and Equidae (45 min)

The main activity is a case study:

Grayscale version:

Distribute the Case Study: Climate, Biomes, and Equidae Student Handout and have students organize into groups of three to four. The handout includes questions to help point students to key patterns and discoveries. Students should be told that they will each need to turn in their own handout.

To encourage reflection at the end of the unit, the student handout concludes with the following prompt: How did the information about Equidae affect your personal understanding of how environmental changes can shape life on Earth? This gives students with an opportunity to reflect individually on what they did in groups and summarize some of the key points. The responses can also give the instructor information about any misconceptions or missed key points that may need to be addressed in another class period. The reflection can be done at the end of class if there is time, or assigned as homework, with the handout turned in the following class period.

Solution Set

A solution set for instructors is here:

The solution set includes answers for the handout above, as well as the optional, additional section below.

Additional Section: History of Modern Equus and Discussion of Wild Horses (optional, if time permits)

This file contains an additional, optional section (Part 5) that could be used either with longer class or lab periods or if the case study is done as homework.

Grayscale version:

Teaching Notes and Tips

You will want to have PowerPoint capability.

The lesson is designed for a 50-minute lecture period. Options for adapting this to longer class periods include showing the optional video linked in the PowerPoint during class and adding the additional section on the history of modern Equus and wild horses.

Biology, paleontology or other courses with longer class or laboratory periods could spend additional time on the horse phylogeny (Figure 1) and reading evolutionary trees (see the "Reading Trees" website under References and Resources below) and/or discussing changing anatomy (Figures 3 and 4). Physical geography or Earth science instructors may wish to focus additional time on past climate reconstruction and trends (Figure 2). Additionally, instructors may wish to point out the various types of interdisciplinary (biological, paleontological, climatic) data used in this activity.

Questions posed to the class within the activity (especially the report-out questions) are best used as think-pair-share opportunities. Give students a minute or two to answer the questions on their own, then another minute to discuss their answers with a partner, then ask students to share answers with the class. Give students a chance to provide multiple answers before covering the topic/answers.

Please see the notes on the PowerPoint slides and Solution Set for additional tips, guidelines, and answers. These provide guidance for instructors to help ensure students make the necessary connections between environmental changes and horse evolution.

Passing the handout around as you begin the introduction or during the video can save time because students can more quickly start working when they form groups.

Assessment

Possible Exam Question:

Learning Outcomes #1 and 2. Construct an explanation for how changes in climate and biome type led to adaptation and diversification in Equidae.

A rubric for grading the question can be found here:

  • Exam Question Rubric (Word)


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  • Exam Question Rubric (PDF)


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Assessments from student handouts:

Learning Outcome #1. The student handout has questions (#3 and 11) that ask students to describe changes in Equidae diversity over time due to evolution of new species and the ultimate loss of all but one genera due to extinction. If students can answer these questions, they have adequately met the first learning outcome.

Learning Outcome #2. The student handout has questions (# 5, 6, 9,10) that ask students to evaluate evidence based on background information, graphs, and scientific illustrations to form ideas about why changing climatic conditions and an increase in grassland environments led to changes in horse anatomy and diversity. If students can answer these questions, they have adequately met the second learning outcome.

Learning Outcome #3. The student handout has questions (#11 and 12) that ask students to compare and contrast earlier diagrams that portrayed Equidae evolution as a straight line with today's multi-branched family tree and a graph of body mass over time to recognize that scientific ideas are subject to change based on new evidence. If students can answer these questions, they have adequately met the third learning outcome.

Student Self-Assessment:

Students can use the Study Guide for self-assessment.

References and Resources

References for Instructors:
  • Damuth, J. and Janis, C.M. 2011. "On the relationship between hypsodonty and feeding ecology in ungulate mammals, and its utility in palaeoecology." Biological Reviews 86, 733-758.
  • MacFadden, B.J. 2005. "Fossil horses: evidence for evolution." Science 307, 1728-1730.
  • MacFadden, B.J. 1986. "Fossil horses from 'Eohippus' (Hyracotherium) to Equus: Scaling, Cope's Law, and the evolution of body size." Paleobiology 12, 355-369.
  • Mihlbachler, M.C., Rivals, F., Solounias, N., Semprebon, G.M. 2011. "Dietary Change and Evolution of Horses in North America." Science 331, 1178-1181.

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These materials are part of a collection of classroom-tested modules and courses developed by InTeGrate. The materials engage students in understanding the earth system as it intertwines with key societal issues. The collection is freely available and ready to be adapted by undergraduate educators across a range of courses including: general education or majors courses in Earth-focused disciplines such as geoscience or environmental science, social science, engineering, and other sciences, as well as courses for interdisciplinary programs.
Explore the Collection »