161 – Niche and the Evolution of Paper Airplanes

Today in honors biology I taught for about 25 minutes on niche and habitat. Kids had a lot of questions. One that has come up before is the economics of being a Giant Panda in 2014. Their niche is so narrow and the kids struggle with the question of whether they would exist without human help. 

Fundamental niche and realized niche as well as niche partitioning are always tough to teach. I had them start an activity using data of 3 migratory Serengeti herbivores, as they track the rains and eat grass of varying length. They were perceptive to the idea that the animals were partitioning the niche without even being in the same place at the same time. 

In AP biology, we just ended our discussion of natural selection using Grant’s finches as our model. Today we created our own bird models using straws and paper to test the evolution of design by “mutating” various “offspring” of the parent plane. Students were to fly three offspring and the one with the best mutation would survive and be the next parent. Mutations were determined by coin flips and die rolls. It was fun and a nice break from the data crunching we have been doing. Tomorrow we will analyze the results for selection trends. 

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