Although the in-lab handout (see Supplement) may be submitted as
a summative assessment, we also required students to create a five-minute presentation on the life histories, limiting factors, threats, and
habitat requirements of their focal species, their habitat suitability analysis, and their proposal for which region(s) should be protected to
preserve their endangered species. Student pairs used the base layer as
a visual aid during the presentations, having marked with a dry-erase
marker the region(s) they proposed for protection. After student presentations, the instructor led a discussion to identify regions that could be
protected to preserve the greatest number of endangered species studied, explicitly prompting students to back up their claims with evidence
from the information they synthesized throughout the lab activity.
Our students were not familiar with non-electronic maps. Most students were able to overcome this challenge with individualized guidance. When teaching digital natives, Berk (2009) found that students
refer first to Internet searches for information. In an age of GPS-enabled phones, tablets, and digital mapping devices, students
may be confused by hardcopy maps.
Our students also struggled with determining if all the map layers
were relevant to their species, as not all map layers provided helpful
information for every species. For example, some species did not
require specific water flow rates, so the water flow map layer did not
provide relevant information. Some students assumed that if they
did not use information from all the map layers, then they were processing the material incorrectly. We suggest this challenge by mitigated
by discussing with students the authentic practice of conservation scientists and how they must continuously decide what information is
relevant to the particular problem they are attempting to solve.
No “Right” Answer
A few of our students were left unsatisfied, as there is no single correct
answer for conservation challenges. Students provided evidence-based reasoning for why they chose a particular region for protection,
but many possibilities would be good candidates, based on the data
they synthesized. Students are accustomed to there being a single correct answer, and the experience of thinking like a conservation scientist is an important component to the lesson. To devise a cohesive
plan of action and convincingly present it to their peers, we found that
this lesson requires students to think critically.
Role of Humans
In the in-lab handout, students are prompted to reflect on how
humans participate in aquatic ecosystems. Some students did not link
human activity with causes of impairment, and conversely, many students could not identify ways that health of aquatic ecosystems affects
humans. If more time can be dedicated to this lesson, it would be
worthwhile to examine impacts of pollution and degradation and
how knowledge of these effects allows conservation scientists to make
management decisions. Furthermore, it would be worthwhile to discuss how threatened species may also serve as sentinels for human
The numerous maps, species facts, and activity questions were daunting when students first opened the map packet. Instructors should
discuss each map layer and what information is presented, explaining
why it was included in the activity. Water quality maps often utilize
many codes to designate waterbodies, which requires them to look
at a map and then refer to a numerical or abbreviated code to decipher
information. Instructors should provide guidance on how to properly
reference waterbodies and what type of information can be gathered
from the water quality data. Also, as mentioned before, the power of
this lesson lies in the instructor’s ability to build on students’
discussions as they synthesize the data. It is these discussions that allow
for conceptual development of ecological and evolutionary ideas.
Making sound conservation decisions requires evolutionary and ecological knowledge. Using place-based learning to explore ecological
and evolutionary aspects of endangered species management is a
novel approach to conservation education. It provides opportunities
to discuss human involvement in and dependence on aquatic ecosystems and to teach ecological and evolutionary concepts through
problem-solving. The Habitat Suitability Analysis lab necessitates
construction of sophisticated ecological and evolutionary concepts,
and demonstrates to students the value of conservation as an evidence-based subfield of biology.
We thank Aderinsola Odentude for teaching an early version of this
laboratory activity, and Drs. Angelo Capparella and May Jadallah for
their guidance in development of this laboratory investigation.
Finally, we thank the students who participated and provided feedback on this lesson.
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Berk, R. (2009). Teaching Strategies for the Next Generation. Transformative
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Brönmark, C., & Hansson, L-A. (1998). The Biology of Lakes and Ponds. New
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Duit, R., & Treagust, D. (2003). Conceptual change: A powerful framework
for improving teaching and learning. International Journal of Science
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Gruenewald, D. A. (2003). The best of both worlds: A critical pedagogy of
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IL DNR (Illinois Department of Natural Resources), Office of Water
Resources. (2014). IllinoisPublicWaters.Re trieved from https://www.
IL EPA (Illinois Environmental Protection Agency). (2014a). Integrated
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THE AMERICAN BIOLOGY TEACHER A LABORATORY ACTIVITY TO ENGAGE COLLEGE STUDENTS IN HABITAT SUITABILITY ANALYSIS