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The Tree of Life

By Arietta Fleming-Davies1, Julie Morris2, Sarah Orlofske3, Ellen Wisner4

1. QUBES; Radford University 2. University of Denver 3. Northeastern Illinois University 4. New Jersey Institute of Technology

Published on







Transforming the "parade of phyla" into an integrated curriculum emphasizing evolutionary concepts, tree-thinking, and quantitative reasoning skills


Our goal is to create an integrated curriculum that emphasizes evolutionary concepts, tree-thinking, and quantitative reasoning skills in presenting the diversity of life, intended to supplement or replace the traditional “parade of phyla.”  As part of this working group, our first step is to gather a collection of existing materials that can be used and/or modified to address our desired learning outcomes.

Learning Outcomes

Students are able to:

1. Create, interpret, and use phylogenies to test hypotheses
2. Connect the mechanisms of microevolution to macroevolutionary patterns, in order to explain how the diversity of living things is generated and perpetuated
3. Use quantitative reasoning to analyze evolutionary and ecological data

In addition, materials will address the following specific learning outcomes, divided into three major themes:


1.1. Demonstrate how morphological evolution results from a subset of molecular evolution
1.2. Compare and contrast the likelihood of phenotypic and genotypic convergence
1.3. Demonstrate how evolutionary changes are constrained by existing genotypic and phenotypic variation
1.4. Recognize that evolution occurs in an environment that varies over space and time
1.5. Evaluate the relative importance of abiotic versus biotic factors on selection
1.6. Recognize and compare multiple evolutionary solutions to similar environmental challenges

Click here to view existing materials or contribute new materials to the Mechanisms theme



2.1. Illustrate how divergence in phenotype may lead to reproductive isolation
2.2. Recognize that species are dynamic entities, and compare the theoretical and practical uses of multiple species concepts
2.3. Interpret visual representations of speciation events

    Click here to view existing materials or contribute new materials to the Speciation theme



3.1. Describe the molecular and structural unity of life
3.2. Explain the role of endosymbiosis and horizontal gene transfer in the origins of the major lineages
3.3. Justify why biodiversity is important to humans
3.4. Compare the general characteristics of major lineages in evolutionary history
3.5. Summarize the role of extinction in shaping patterns of biodiversity

Click here to view existing materials or contribute new materials to the Biodiversity theme

We encourage everyone to submit items for these collections.  Please use the links below to contribute to the conceptual theme that best fits your materials.  We would appreciate it if you could also tag your materials by type, using the following table as a guide.

In addition, please tag the learning outcome(s) your item addresses, and add a tag for the theme.

EXAMPLE: If you are posting a tool that addresses learning outcomes 2 & 3 under the theme of “Mechanisms” you would include the following tags:   Tools, LO1.2, LO1.3, Mechanisms

*Please use this format when tagging as it will make the collection easier to search.

Want to contribute? Use these links to contribute to each of the main content themes:





Many thanks to Tony Weisstein for his contributions to the learning objectives, and to both Tony and Jim Smith for general guidance and good ideas.

Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  • Arietta Fleming-Davies; Julie Morris; Sarah Orlofske; Ellen Wisner (2015), "The Tree of Life," https://qubeshub.org/resources/453.

    BibTex | EndNote