investigative labs in systematics

Douglas P. Jensen jensendp at DIANA.HOLLINS.EDU
Mon Sep 8 10:07:59 EST 1997

I've got two suggestions for this type of lab plus a couple of other dry
labs, although none of the four are experimental.

1.  I like to do what I call 'The nuts and bolts of classification'.  The
students pair up and are given a bunch of screws, nails, and other
fasteners.  Then they are required to come up with a classification system.
Sometimes I let them take this home.  They then present their system to the
class, after which I always ask whose classification is the correct one and
whose is the best.  I want each student to claim that hers is the best
system, but most of them are too nice.  I like using nuts and bolts because
they cannot say 'Well, I know X is related to Y, so I'll classify them
together.'  It gets them thinking about what characteristics would be best
to use in a biological classification system.

2.  Another lab I have not taught, but did as an undergrad, was to create a
character matrix for a bunch of organisms.  We then made a similarity
matrix, and used it to create 'trees' by hand.  Of course this is quite
phenetic (and I was at Michigan--go figure!), so people may be turned off by
it, but it does get students thinking about making complete data sets and
about which characters might be good and which might not be.

3 and 4.  In systematics classes, I have had students do groundplan
divergence and polyploidy/biosystematics exercises, but these are dry labs,
and I think they are beyond intro biology students.

Douglas P. Jensen, Assistant Professor of Biology
PO Box 9615
Hollins College
Roanoke, Virginia 24020
jensendp at

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