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Biological Diversity in Wetlands: Applying the Scientific Method

Author(s): Orissa Moulton

Texas A & M University Galveston

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This exercise, implemented in Fall 2018 in Texas A & M University at Galveston Introductory Biology I (200 students), is an adaptation of the original teaching module “Environment-Richness Relationships in Ephemeral and Permanent Wetlands: Guided Inquiry with Graph Interpretation” by Dr. Amanda Little. 


Amanda M. Little. February 2018. Environment-Richness Relationships in Ephemeral and Permanent Wetlands: Guided Inquiry with Graph Interpretation Teaching Issues and Experiments in Ecology, Vol. 13.

This laboratory adaptation modifies a sophomore level Ecology exercise into a freshman-level introduction to the Scientific Method, appropriate for students at the start of their first semester of an Introductory Biology sequence. The exercise is designed to take place within a 3-hour laboratory section. Through this exploration of a real biological and environmental dataset, students learn the vocabulary and format of the Scientific Method (question, hypothesis, prediction, replication, independent and dependent variables, controlled variables) and follow a guided tutorial for processing diversity and environmental data using Microsoft Excel (data organization, graphing, and statistical testing). By placing this laboratory exercise at the front of the course, an expectation for team collaboration, careful work, and rigorous exploration of scientific content can be made transparent to new students.     

This adaptation from the original version has two main objectives, listed below along with specific changes made.

  1. Reduce biological and quantitative complexity for use in the Introductory Biology laboratory classroom
  • Utilized only 1 year of data (2013 only)
  • Consolidated diversity data to broad categories: Invertebrates and Plants
  • Gave students access to 6 most easily described environmental metadata variables (Area, Canopy, Dissolved Oxygen, Nitrate, Total Phosphorus, Water Depth)
  1. Provide explicit technical guidance for manipulating data in Microsoft Excel
  • Students may refer back to this lab as a reference guide for sorting, plotting (boxplot), averaging data, as well as performing a simple statistical comparison of means (t-test) 

In future adaptations for the Introductory Biology classroom, the following changes might be appropriate:

  • Improve guidance for Graduate Teaching Assistants, including photo-based background information on Wisconsin wetlands, references for generating and interpreting graphs and statistical tests, and pedagogical support for guiding group communication and success
  • Replace Wisconsin wetlands data with a locally relevant diversity dataset for more thorough student engagement (for Galveston, TX, this could mean estuarine, bay, or reef fish communities or salt marsh plant communities)

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