websites (e.g., https://www.lucidchart.com/pages/examples/concept-map/, https://prezi.com/ssbyu2lvllsp/biology-concept-maps/) and in
the literature (e.g., National Academy of Sciences, 1998; Almond
et al., 2015; Kong et al., 2017). Most of them, however, are too general
or focus only on one topic of evolution, such as evolutionary trees or
natural selection, or do not include the most recent advances in evolutionary research, such as genetic engineering. In addition, many of
those concept maps were constructed by educators and not by
researchers in evolution who also teach or have taught at the high
school or university level. Therefore, we propose here a way to visualize main ideas about evolution in the context of the whole set of
ideas, avoiding fragmented learning of each concept independently.
In addition, the concept map presented here is updated with recent
scientific advances in the discipline. We expect that the content of
our concept map represents, in summary form, current knowledge
in evolutionary biology, including the scientific controversies (e.g.,
the role of phenotypic plasticity in generating genetic changes) that
will help students see the state of the art and the dynamics of the
discipline. Also, these controversies may trigger valuable discussions
in the classroom, fomenting the critical thinking of the learners.
The graphical structure will allow learners to follow the sequential
flow of the patterns (history of life) and the processes that generate the
patterns, as it happens in nature. We propose that the content and the
graphical structure of the concept map can promote meaningful learning of evolutionary biology, because such learning occurs when relationships between concepts become more explicit, more precise,
and better integrated with prior knowledge in biology (see below).
The narrative complements the map and serves as a kind of
glossary with selected references. Superscript numerals relate the
narrative to the most comprehensive ideas of the map.
This article is intended for precollege students and teachers. Precollege students might use the concept map to retrieve, review, or
learn about evolution. Teachers could use the map for direct instruction, as a curriculum organizer, or even as an assessment tool.
The Scope of Evolution
The problematic expansion of bacterial resistance to antibiotics and
of weeds’ resistance to herbicides, the morphological and molecular
similarities between different groups of organisms, the unity of all
living things reflected in nucleic acids, the extraordinary and astonishing biodiversity on Earth, the past written in fossils, and the
position of Homo sapiens in the history of life are isolated facts that
one can understand and relate to each other only in the light of biological evolution (Dobzhansky, 1973).
Biological evolution1 consists in the change of the hereditary characteristics of groups of organisms in the course of multiple generations
(Futuyma & Kirkpatrick, 2017). In a long-term perspective, evolution
is the descent with modification of different lineages from a common
ancestor. From a short-term perspective, it is the adaptation of populations to environmental challenges and changes. Therefore, evolution
has two components: the ancestor-descendant relationship of the different lineages (history of life) and the processes that produced them.
For some time, there has been controversy about the importance
to evolutionary theory of four factors: nongenetic inheritance (
inclusive inheritance), phenotypic plasticity, developmental processes,
and niche construction. For some biologists, these factors have the
potential to change our view of evolution (Laland et al., 2014, 2015;
Noble, 2015). A different group of biologists has argued that these
factors already have been accounted for in modern evolutionary
theory and have not yet demonstrated that their inclusion merits
major changes in our current evolutionary framework (Wray
et al., 2014; Charlesworth et al., 2017; Futuyma, 2017). We
include these four factors in our concept map, using cautious
wording about their importance, but showing that they already
are part of evolutionary theory.
Validation of the Concept Map
We validated the concept map in three ways. First, we examined relevant literature on evolution (e.g., Darwin, 1859; Dobzhansky, 1973;
Coyne, 2009; Futuyma & Kirkpatrick, 2017) and phylogenetics
(e.g., Felsenstein, 2004; Baum & Smith, 2012). All the authors of
this article are researchers and have published papers in high-impact
journals, such as Nature, Proceedings of the National Academy of
Sciences, and Science, on the theory and practice of biodiversity
(e.g., Sala, 2001, 2003, 2016; Crisci, 2006, 2008), biogeography
(e.g., Crisci et al., 2003; Crisci & Katinas, 2009; Apodaca et al.,
2015b), ecology (e.g., Huxman et al., 2004; Jobbágy & Sala, 2014;
Gherardi & Sala, 2015; Sala, 2016), evolution (e.g., Crisci, 1981,
1982; Barreda et al., 2010; Katinas et al., 2013), phylogenetics
(e.g., Crisci & Stuessy, 1980; Katinas & Crisci, 2000; Apodaca
et al., 2015a), and teaching about evolution (e.g., McInerney,
1989, 2009; Crisci et al., 1993, 2014; National Academy of
Sciences, 1998; Andrews et al., 2002; Crisci & Katinas, 2011).
Second, we consulted experts in evolution (e.g., Douglas Futuyma
and Edgardo Ortiz-Jaureguizar) and used our own expertise as high
school and university teachers (in some cases more than 40 years of
teaching) in the following subjects: biodiversity, biogeography, biology education, conservation, ecology, evolution, multivariate analysis,
phylogenetics, plant morphology, plant systematics, and taxonomy.
This collective expertise was very useful in the construction of the
concept map, allowing us to overcome the most common difficulties
(such as troubles in linking new knowledge with higher-order, more
inclusive concepts in cognitive structure) and answer fundamental
Third, to validate the concept map, we aligned it with the Next
Generation Science Standards (NGSS), as explained below.
Alignment of the Concept Map with
The concept map is intended for use in middle school and high
school and is based on the statement that “scientific knowledge
assumes an order and consistency in natural systems” (NGSS Lead
States, 2013). The map also aligns with seven life-sciences core
ideas of the NGSS: interdependent relationships in ecosystems,
inheritance and variation of traits, biodiversity, natural selection,
adaptation, evidence of common ancestry, and fossils as evidence
of the history of life. Figure 1 shows grades and standards that
include those seven core ideas. The standards from first to fifth
grades represent the prior knowledge that anchors the concept
map. The map implicitly addresses crosscutting concepts such as
patterns, cause and effect, systems and systems models, and stability and change.