As the summer is ending and a new semester is beginning, your thoughts may have returned to teaching. I try to use a diversity of taxonomic groups in my lectures and labs, but of course, I find anoles to be useful examples for many topics in the classroom. In my Evolution course, taught each year to biology majors at Trinity University, I focus one laboratory module on anole evolution to teach my students to conduct phylogenetically-informed comparative analyses. Below, I’ll describe the approach I use in my course, and if you would like to see my materials, or adapt them for your own teaching, I’d be happy to share the lab handouts – just email me at michele.johnson[at]trinity.edu.
Many activities in my lecture and lab focus on creating and interpreting phylogenies, and one of my earliest lab sessions teaches students to use parsimony and similarity-based classification to build phylogenies from mammalian morphological traits. The students then use an EvoBeaker lab (Domesticating Dogs, available from SimBio at http://simbio.com/products-college/EvoBeaker) to create simple phylogenies using nucleotide data. In a subsequent lab, I teach the students to access nucleotide data in GenBank, to use BLAST to find similar sequences, and to align genes in CLUSTAL. The following week, the students build on their alignment skills and learn to make maximum parsimony and maximum likelihood trees in the program Phylo-win. My materials for these latter two classes were adapted from those used by Alex Shingleton in his evolution lab course at Michigan State. (The anoles are coming, I promise.)
The next lab session teaches students to conduct comparative analyses using independent contrasts and phylogenetic ANOVA in R (using ape and the dependent packages). In this lab, I use bird data on song evolution (getting closer to anoles). The following week, I provide the students with a stack of books and peer-reviewed publications on anoles, using as many sources with tabular data on multiple anole species as I can find. (If you have a publication with such a table, please suggest it to me!) Working with a partner, the students’ challenge is then to determine a hypothesis on anole trait evolution and to statistically test that hypothesis using data from 8-12 species. First, they comb through the papers and books (with my guidance) to find traits that are associated with something they are interested in. Next, they create their own phylogeny using molecular data from GenBank. They then input their data and tree into R, and run a regression with independent contrasts or a phylogenetic ANOVA, depending on their focal question. My students complete this entire sequence (identify question, find data, make phylogeny, analyze data) in one 3-hour lab period.
The final week is the best part – the students then give 10-12 minute presentations on their projects. This means that I get to sit back and listen to my own mini-Anolis symposium! The students have come up with some very creative ideas in the last few years, some of which we may be able to extend into short manuscripts. It’s a fun lab module to teach.