1.3 – Major Principles of Ecology and Evolution

Students will be able to analyze critically and apply the major principles of ecology and evolution.

Just like Intro to Genetics and Cell Biology, Intro to Ecology and Evolution was one of the first classes I took at Longwood. In this class I was able to design my own research project for the first time and then execute it in the field. I chose to investigate the difference in crayfish abundance in still versus moving water and ended up giving an oral presentation on my findings at the end of the semester. This class not only taught me a lot in the way of ecology and evolution, but it also gave me my first experience in experimental design. I had no idea at the time how valuable that experience would be to me later on. As I said about Intro to Genetics and Cell Biology, this all seems basic to me now, but it gave me a strong foundation to build on in future classes.

All of the basic information I learned about evolution from the introductory course came to be useful later on when I took Evolution. In this class I learned more about key evolutionary concepts like variation, selection, inheritance, and ended up writing a paper on the evolution of the human system of communication. I had no idea going into this class that it would help me as much as it did. I wish I had taken it sooner as I often recalled information from other classes I had taken prior to this one every time we started new material. It allowed me to draw lines that connected all of the classes I had taken beforehand and understand that information in a new light. In topics like Human Anatomy and Physiology and Neurobiology and even Immunology, I was able to have a better understanding of them after learning how and why things change through evolution. In retrospect, I think I would have gained more from all of my biology classes had I taken Evolution sooner rather than later.

Vertebrate Morphology was another class I took that relied heavily on knowledge about evolution. I took this at the same as Evolution and remember seeing parallels in the progression of the material throughout the semester. For this class I wrote a series of papers that helped to apply my knowledge of evolution to different aspects of vertebrate morphology as we know it now. I wrote papers on Hox genes in hemichordate development, our understanding of human evolution through ancestral species, and the evolution of color vision. This class really helped me to see the relationship between structure and function through an evolutionary lens. Like Evolution, Vertebrate Morphology provided me with a better understanding of other topics like Human Anatomy and Physiology and Comparative Biomechanics as I was better able to relate the structure and function of certain physical characteristics to the evolutionary reasons behind them.