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Mark A. Sarvary
Senior Lecturer
Investigative Biology Teaching Laboratories
Cornell University
Why Did the Snake Cross the Road?: A Population Genetics and Habitat Conservation Case Study

Although Hardy-Weinberg equilibrium is a fundamental part of introductory biology classes, students often have difficulty understanding its implications. This interrupted case study places students in the role of small teams who are conducting preliminary research into the impact of roads on the population structure of timber rattlesnakes in order to apply for a grant for further research. Research groups consisting of 3-4 students work through a series of questions allowing them to use HWE principles to discover for themselves how deviations from HWE can have implications for conservation biology. Periodic interruptions with help sheets (see Supplemental Materials) allow teachers to maintain an active role in the students' progress, while also demonstrating the collaborative nature of scientific research. Ultimately students formulate formal emails summarizing and interpreting their findings in order to "apply" for the grant. The case is designed for undergraduate students in introductory biology or in lower-level population genetics/conservation courses where connecting basic genetic principles to ecology and sustainability is key.