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Community College / Lower Division, College / Upper Division
Ohio Open Ed Collaborative
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Phylogenies and the History of Life Resources


In scientific terms, phylogeny is the evolutionary history and relationship of an organism or group of organisms. A phylogeny describes the organism's relationships, such as from which organisms it may have evolved, or to which species it is most closely related. Scientists must collect accurate information that allows them to make evolutionary connections among organisms. It is a highly dynamic field of biology because phylogenetic modeling concepts are constantly changing as new information is collected.  Over the last several decades, new research has challenged scientists’ ideas about how organisms are related. 

Learning Objectives

Recommended Textbook Resources

Chapter 20: Phylogenies and the History of LifeBiology 2e

OpenStax: Biology 2e

This chapter describes and contrasts Linnaean taxonomy and systematics.  It reviews the different types of data used in cladistics and provides an introduction to the construction of cladograms.  It concludes with a discussion of the importance of horizontal gene transfer in understanding the evolution of early life. 

Student Assessment Activities

Project 1:

Stuents watch the video about how to interpret phylogenetic trees here.

Instructors then administer one or both of these quizzes. This PDF contains both the two quizzes and their answer keys.

Project 2:

This is a lab activity called the Caminalcule Evolution Lab.  In Part 1, students classify 14 living hypothetical species based on pictures and then create a small phylogenetic tree for them.  In Part 2, they create a larger tree for 58 fossils species and look for patterns such as vestigial traits and convergence. Included in this link are instructor tips for both majors and nonmajors.

Caminalcule Evolution Lab Google Doc

Caminalcule Evolution Lab Word Doc

Project 3:

Find the correct answers to the end of the chapter “Review Questions.” Note the page number on which you found the answer. Be prepared to share and explain your answers in a group setting. 

Project 4:

Answer the end of the chapter “Critical Thinking Questions.” Note the page number on which you found the answer. Be prepared to share and explain your answers in a group setting.