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Parks Collins
Natural Science
Mitchell Community College
En Garde! Animal Structures and What They Mean 

In most animals, the drive to breed and produce offspring is strong. However, most males live their whole lives without having the chance to breed. The events leading up to mating can be very dangerous and also very costly to an individual. Some males have evolved elaborate structures, or weapons, as a result. The structures do help males in both combative situations and with attracting females, but ironically, the structures themselves come with certain costs. This flipped case study provides students with the opportunity to not only see how animal structures and functions are linked, but also to see how certain animal structures are needed and costly. There are videos that students are expected to view before the case. The case was initially designed for a second semester college general biology class for majors. However, it can also be used in non-major biology classes. Students should have some background knowledge of natural selection, specifically sexual selection as well as energetic demands of certain structures.

Kudz-who? and Other Questions of Invasive Species 

It is now well known that non-native species have the potential to be harmful to an ecosystem, but that wasn't always the case, and getting rid of non-native invasive species is usually a difficult task. This brief, interrupted case study tells the story of kudzu's introduction into the United States in the late 1800s. It also examines (and even questions) how we define words like "native" versus "non-native" and "invasive" versus "non-invasive." Students will learn how invasive species impact ecosystems and why some non-native species never become established. They also will address questions related to eradicating non-native invasive species. For example, is it okay to attempt to get rid of a non-native species with another non-native species? As part of the activity, students also will have to decide whether or not kudzu should be considered "native" since it has been in the United States since 1876. Originally designed for a general biology course for majors, the case has also been used in a biology class for non-majors as well as an environmental biology class.

The Return of Canis lupus? 

Although gray wolves once freely roamed North America, the gradual loss of their habitat from westward expansion and extermination programs led to their demise in the early 20th century. Many argue that predators such as wolves benefit a functioning ecosystem. In 1995, following years of extensive planning and controversy, wolves were brought from Canada and restored to Yellowstone National Park. This case study provides students with an opportunity to integrate various abstract ecological concepts (trophic cascades, keystone species, interspecific versus intraspecific interactions) with applied ecology as they learn about the wolf reintroduction debate and the conservation of an ecosystem. As part of their case work, students formulate and present a management plan. Originally designed for a college ecology course, this case has also been successfully used with both majors and non-majors in basic biology courses. Students will need some background knowledge of community and population structure within ecosystems.

Toxic Circumstances: Using Bioinformatics to Understand Natural Selection

This interrupted case study tells the true story of Karl P. Schmidt, a herpetologist and museum curator who was bitten by a venomous snake in 1957. Like a true scientist, Schmidt recorded notes about his symptoms until the very end when he died. Students will examine information about his death in order to learn how venom pathways are related to genes, transcription, and translation. By studying venom pathways, students will examine the relationship between natural selection and the genetic and molecular processes responsible for generating the observed diversity in toxin composition and action. The final two sections of the case focus on bioinformatics. Students will explore the fields of genomics, proteomics, and systems biology by analyzing venom proteins using the Basic Local Alignment Search Tool (BLAST). Originally designed for a general biology course for majors, the case is also suitable for a non-majors biology class.