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Peppered Moths and the Industrial Revolution

Barking up the Wrong Tree?

Co Authors:

Avril M. Harder
Department of Biological Sciences
Purdue University

Janna R. Willoughby
Department of Forestry and Natural Resources
Purdue University

Jaqueline M. Doyle
Department of Biological Sciences
Towson University


This interrupted case study was written for students to gain a better understanding of evolutionary concepts and principles as they develop their skills in hypothesis creation, experimental design, and critical analysis of experimental assumptions. These skills are taught using a classic example of rapid adaptation: evolution of peppered moths in response to pollution-induced environmental changes. Students begin with a basic background to the peppered moth system, and then identify and evaluate specific assumptions of the methodology. Students also become familiar with the concept of selection and how this can be quantified. Finally, students are asked to apply these concepts of selection to design a novel experiment. Although the case has broad appeal, it was originally designed for evolution or ecology courses primarily comprised of biology majors.

  • Understand how to construct a hypothesis and prediction using relevant background information.
  • Use experimental designs to identify inherent experimental assumptions.
  • Analyze data to quantify relevant evolutionary processes and evaluate conclusions based on these values.
  • Extend above knowledge to new system to evaluate potential evolutionary mechanisms.
Keywords: Adaptation; DNA; evolution; peppered moth; selection; lichen; camouflage; pollution; Industrial Revolution; Kettlewell; Majerus; cliff swallow; roadkill; wing length
Topical Area: History of science, Scientific argumentation
Educational Level: Undergraduate lower division, Undergraduate upper division
Formats: PDF
Type/Method: Analysis (Issues), Interrupted
Language: English
Subject Headings: Biology (General)   Ecology   Genetics / Heredity   Evolutionary Biology   Science (General)  
Date Posted: 4/29/2019
Date Modified: N/A
Copyright: Copyright held by the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science, University at Buffalo, State University of New York. Please see our usage guidelines, which outline our policy concerning permissible reproduction of this work.

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