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Breeding Belyaev's Pets

Domestication, Evolution, and the Farm-Fox Experiment


J. Phil Gibson
Department of Biology and Department of Microbiology & Plant Biology
University of Oklahoma


This clicker case addresses several important concepts related to evolution. First, it explores artificial selection and selective breeding. Charles Darwin used artificial selection as an example to support his Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection. Belyaev's Fox-Farm experiment is used as an example of a study that used selective breeding as the primary experimental procedure to investigate changes in a lineage. Second, it addresses an interesting observation made by Charles Darwin in The Origin of Species in which he noted how domesticated species also show interesting traits such as drooping ears which seem to be common in domesticated species. The "Farm-Fox Experiment" not only demonstrates how a research team can thoroughly investigate an intriguing question, but also serves as a classic example of elegant experimental design. Designed for use in a large introductory-level biology class, this case study would also be appropriate for smaller classes as well as for upper-level evolution courses.

  • Describe artificial selection and how it relates to domestication.
  • Explain how artificial selection relates to and supports Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection.
  • Explain how selection can drive genetic changes in lineages.
  • Understand how genetic variation, inheritance, and selection can result in phenotypic changes and adaptation in a lineage or population over time.
  • Understand that selection on one trait can lead to changes in other traits.
  • Develop hypotheses to investigate an identified question.
  • Predict outcomes of experiments.
  • Analyze data and interpret experimental results in light of research results.
  • Synthesize results from different studies and evaluate their larger significance.
Keywords: Canines; canid; dogs; foxes; evolution; artificial selection; domestication; selective breeding; Dmitri Belyaev; Charles Darwin
Topical Area: N/A
Educational Level: High school, Undergraduate lower division, Undergraduate upper division
Formats: PDF, PowerPoint
Type/Method: Clicker, Interrupted
Language: English
Subject Headings: Evolutionary Biology   Zoology   Bioinformatics  
Date Posted: 6/27/2014
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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Supplemental Materials

The supplemental material below may be used in conjunction with this case study.

  Click-and-Learn: Natural and Artificial Selection hhmi/
This interactive activity provides several examples of classic artificial selection, including dogs. Produced by HHMI BioInteractive.
This looks great. I can't wait to use it with my AP students this year!

JJ Newman Rode
Pioneer Jr/Sr High School
West Lafayette

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