Extreme Arthropods: Exploring Evolutionary Adaptations to Polar and Temperate Deserts

By Sandro, Luke; Constible, Juanita M. et al. | Science Scope, Summer 2007 | Go to article overview

Extreme Arthropods: Exploring Evolutionary Adaptations to Polar and Temperate Deserts


Sandro, Luke, Constible, Juanita M., Lee, Richard E., Jr., Science Scope


In this activity, Namib and Antarctic arthropods are used to illustrate several important biological principles. Among these are the key ideas that form follows function and that the environment drives evolution. In addition, students will discover that the climates of the Namib Desert and the Antarctic Peninsula are similar in several ways, and that these arthropods have evolved some analogous adaptations. This investigation is a good introduction to the phylum Arthropoda, the most successful group of animals on Earth, and spotlights the group's ability to occupy some of the most challenging niches on the planet (National Science Content Standard C; NRC 1996).

On the first day of this lesson, individual students design imaginary arthropods able to survive in either Antarctica or the Namib Desert. On the second day, student groups use evolutionary "toolboxes" to pick out appropriate adaptations for actual Namib Desert and Antarctic arthropods using a menu of authentic names, adaptations, and photos. This activity involves students in evolutionary thought and allows them to collaborate on assembling adaptations using aspects of technological design to overcome specific environmental problems (Content Standards A and E; NRC 1996).

Extreme arthropod lessons

In popular auto-racing video games, one can choose special tires, shock absorbers, and engine modifications to suit a particular racing environment. The activities presented here get at the idea that an organism is an accumulation of modifications, evolved over thousands or millions of years in response to the environment. While engaging students with the idea of designing the perfectly adapted arthropod, the lesson allows them to discover the extraordinary designs of real arthropods, which survive in varied and extreme conditions. The activities presented here guide students to think of arthropods as having a "toolbox" of evolutionary adaptations. This lesson would fit nicely as a transition between the end of a biome unit and the beginning of an evolution unit. While studying biomes, student groups can choose to investigate either the Namib Desert or Antarctic Peninsula using library and internet resources prior to this lesson. Because this activity requires little prior evolution knowledge, it stimulates student interest in learning more about the evolutionary mechanisms that have caused such amazing adaptations.

First, students are asked to create an arthropod from scratch, inventing adaptations that will help it to survive either Antarctica or the Namib Desert. Second, students construct an arthropod by choosing from a menu of adaptations that will enable the arthropod to survive.

Materials

Day 1

* Art supplies, such as colored markers, colored pencils, or paints

* One per student: Student Page 1

Day 2

* Glue, scissors

* One per group: Student Pages 2 and 3

* One per group: Student Pages 4 and 5

Procedures Day 1: Extreme arthropod from scratch (Student Page 1)

1. Engage students with a video-game analogy, if possible; many students will understand analogies to a car-racing game, in which players choose the best shock absorbers, engine modifications, and tires to fit the chosen racetrack. Also, in many role-playing video games of the Dungeons and Dragons-type, players allocate points to different character abilities like strength, intelligence, and speed, as well as choosing skills to learn, all to suit their character to the game environment.

2. Explain to students that the Antarctic Peninsula and the Namib Desert present unique challenges to all life forms. Students will focus on the terrestrial arthropods that inhabit these environments.

3. Distribute Student Page 1. Ask students to read through the list of extreme conditions in the Namib Desert and the Antarctic Peninsula. Discuss ways organisms might survive these conditions. …

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