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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 ...

A Strange Fish Indeed
Through a series of fictionalized diary entries, this case recounts the 1939 discovery by Marjorie Courtenay-Latimer (and identification by J.L.B. Smith) of a living coelacanth, a fish believed to be extinct for over 70 million years. Developed for...

A Struggle for Power in China: The Three Gorges Dam
The Three Gorges Dam in China is one of the world's largest hydroelectric dams, providing energy for millions of people. However, the dam's construction forever altered the Yangtze River ecosystem and the lives of local residents. In this case study, s...

A Trip to the Beach
This interrupted case study, designed for an introductory biology or environmental science course, introduces students to the complexity of ecosystems by examining changes in trophic interactions and abiotic factors in a freshwater ecosystem as a resul...

Are We Too Clean?
This case study focuses on the relationship between the microbiome (the suite of species that live in or on the human body) and autoimmune and allergic diseases. At the center of the case is Amelia, a young woman living with Crohn's disease. As the cas...

As the Worm Turns
At what point in evolutionary development does a group of individuals become two distinct species? This case addresses that fundamental question by asking students to decide whether apple maggot flies are distinct as a species from hawthorn maggot flie...

Blood Suckers! A Case Study on Evolution and Speciation
This directed case study in PowerPoint format focuses on the London Underground Mosquito, Culex molestus, and its potential relationship to the common mosquito, Culex pipiens, in order to explore the topics of evolution, reproductive ...

But It's Just a Bottle of Water
Bottled water, popular among students, is big business even though issues surrounding it related to health and safety as well as its environmental impact have stirred up controversy. Designed for an introductory non-majors environmental science course,...

Butterflies in the Stomach
Why is the North American population of monarch butterflies declining? In 1999, a study published in the journal Nature suggested that a variety of genetically modified corn was killing these iconic butterflies. While it was later shown that t...

Can Suminoe Oysters Save Chesapeake Bay?
This dilemma case explores the controversy over introducing non-native oysters to the Chesapeake Bay as a means of improving its ecological and economic health. Developed for use in an interdisciplinary doctoral program in energy and environmental stud...

Carbon Balance of Forest Thinning and Bioenergy Production
This interrupted case study introduces students to the concept of carbon storage and how land management decisions can affect this vital ecosystem service.  Forests play an important role in the carbon cycle because of their ability to uptake and ...

Caribou Conservation Conundrum
As a Government of Canada biologist, "Rachael Mercer" faces the task of advising the Environment Minister on whether a proposed wolf cull should be carried out to conserve threatened caribou populations in the Northern Alberta oilsands region. The Albe...

Cat vs. Bird: Another Look at Complexity in Conservation
This clicker case is an adaptation of a case by Loren Byrne that told the true story of a Texas man who killed a cat that was killing piping plovers (see "Complexity in Conservation: The Legal and Ethical Case of a Bird-Eating Cat and its Human Killer,...

Cauldron of Democracy
This case study explores the controversy surrounding Yellowstone bison (Bison bison) and the relationship between wildlife management and pluralist democracy. In the late 1960s Yellowstone National Park suspended the policy of strictly managin...

Community-Based Management and Conservation in Africa
Niko lives in Namibia and is about to attend a community meeting at which the fate of his family's re-settlement will be decided. He is unsure as to what would be best for his family; his father does not want to move while his brother is optimistic tha...

Complexity in Conservation
Conservation biology focuses on the scientific study and practice of preventing biodiversity loss. Many complex sociocultural factors affect the success of conservation. This case study presents the true story of a Texas man who killed a cat that was k...

Conversations with Fireflies
This case explores the aggressive mimicry behavior of the femme fatale firefly - female fireflies in the genus Photuris that mimic the flash pattern of females in the genus Photinus in order to lure Photinus males to their de...

Counting Sheep
In this case study, students hear arguments on both sides of a debate over wildlife management and must integrate ethical and scientific perspectives to formulate their own opinions. The case as written is most appropriate for an environmental ethics o...

Crazy About Cryptids! An Ecological Hunt for Nessie and Other Legendary Creatures
Who wouldn't want to go in search of a creature like Bigfoot, Yeti, or the Loch Ness Monster?  Using the science of ecology, students do exactly that in this case study that encompasses a variety of case study teaching formats.  Working in gr...

Darwin's Finches and Natural Selection
In this "clicker case," students learn about natural selection through the research of Peter and Rosemary Grant and colleagues on the finches of the Galapagos Islands. Students are presented with data in the form of graphs and asked to determine what i...

Dengue in the Landscape
This interrupted case engages students in issues contributing to the increase of dengue fever in Jamaica. The overall goal of the case is to make clear the connections between land use management and public health, specifically dengue fever. Students l...

Disappearing Marine Iguanas
In this interrupted case study, students apply the scientific method to probe possible reasons behind declining marine iguana populations in the Galapagos Islands. Initially students are given rudimentary information and encouraged to generate wide-ran...

Do Corridors Have Value in Conservation?
This case study discusses conservation corridors as a means to reduce the problems of population size and isolation in a fragmented habitat. In an interrupted format, students learn what a corridor is, consider how nature preserves and corridors functi...

Does the Matrix Matter?
In this case study, students apply principles of landscape ecology, experimental design, and data interpretation to examine alternative explanations for how birds respond to forest fragmentation and landscape matrix. Using an interrupted format, the ca...

Dolphin Deaths: A Case Study in Environmental Toxicology
This case study examines a variety of biological factors that may have been involved in the 2013 dolphin "unusual mortality event" (UME) on the East Coast of the United States. The story follows a news reporter and four different scientists who are pre...

Dredge Today, Restore Tomorrow
In this case study, students role-play members of a task force whose task it is to advise the Director of the National Park Service (their instructor) on the best location for creating a wetland using dredge material from the Potomac River.  Stude...

Dust to Dust
Tom and his grandfather, a retired high school chemistry teacher, are talking about a National Geographic television documentary titled “Waking the Baby Mammoth.” As students read the dialogue that ensues, they learn how carbon, an essentia...

Eating PCBs from Lake Ontario - Is There an Effect or Not?
This case is based on an actual news release reporting on research about the effects of eating Lake Ontario fish contaminated with PCBs. Developed to teach students about statistical analysis and experimental design, the case has been used in a senior-...

Ecology of Individuals: Using Game Theory to Understand Animal Behavior
This case study is based on the game theory developed by John Maynard Smith where two behavioral strategies ("Hawks" and "Doves") compete over a contested resource. During this 50- to 75-minute case, students experience "hands-on"' the change in freque...

Ecotourism: Who Benefits?
The main objective of this case is to have students critically examine the costs and the benefits associated with ecotourism, a form of  tourism usuallly involving visiting fragile, pristine, and relatively undisturbed natural areas intended as a...

Evolution and Plasticity in Guppies
This case study focuses on the relationship between evolution and plasticity using a hands-on, inquiry-based approach. Students view examples from the literature that illustrate the difference between nature and nurture, or the relative contributions o...

Evolution in Action
This case study is based on Dr. Richard Lenski’s ongoing studies of evolution in E. coli. Students are introduced to prokaryotic biology and to Lenski’s studies based on serial broth cultures of E. coli, which have been mo...

Exaggerated Traits and Breeding Success in Widowbirds
Sexual selection has led to the evolution of interesting traits and behaviors in many animal species. In widowbirds, males undergo a dramatic change in plumage coloration and produce exceptionally long tail feathers during the breeding season. This cha...

Experimental Design and Statistical Analysis
This case is based on a research paper about the lignin content of genetically modified corn published in the American Journal of Botany. Students are asked to analyze and discuss the paper, focusing on questions related to experimental design...

First in Flight, Last in Wetlands Preservation?
Developed for an introductory environmental studies course, this case study explores the ecological, economic, and legislative issues associated with land development and wetland loss. Students role-play the points of view of four different stakeholder...

Fish as Fertilizer
In this case study, students examine data from a number of published studies of the effects of Pacific salmon on freshwater and riparian ecosystems. The case focuses on the interesting phenomenon of spawning salmon acting as nutrient conveyor belts, tr...

Fishing for Answers in the Gulf of Mexico's Dead Zone
This “clicker case” addresses the eutrophication of aquatic systems caused by human activities. "Susan" is a biology student working at a seafood restaurant on the Gulf of Mexico. She discovers that the restaurant doesn't serve locally caug...

From Prairies to Corn Fields for Fuel
With increasing U.S. government support for biofuel production in the late 2000s came increased pressure to convert more land to cornfields for ethanol. To make way for more corn, millions of acres of prairie grassland were plowed under, destroying an ...

Global Climate Change: Evidence and Causes
This “clicker case” begins by assessing students’ impressions of global climate change and the role that human activities play in recent global warming trends. Students assume the role of an intern working for a U.S. senator. They nee...

Global Climate Change: Impact and Remediation
This “clicker case” is a continuation of another case in our collection, “Global Climate Change: Evidence and Causes,” in which students assumed the role of an intern working for a U.S. senator so that they could advise the sena...

Global Climate Change: What Does it Look Like?
In this interrupted case study, Ph.D.-paleoclimatologist-turned-TV-meteorologist Sara Fahrenheit finds herself projected into a future climate that reminds her of the Early Eocene: it's hot, it's humid, and seems tropical. The story is a vehicle for te...

Grazing in Vernal Pools
This case study in restoration ecology utilizes two peer reviewed articles that ask a similar question about the effects of grazing in temporary wetlands, yet the articles have different conclusions about these effects.  Students are challenged to...

How Many More Thymes? A Case of Phytochemical Defense
This clicker case addresses several concepts related to the evolutionary ecology of herbivore defenses. A survey of several different studies that investigated chemical defenses in Thymus vulgaris (thyme) gives students the opportunity to deve...

Impacts of Climate Change on Pinyon Pine Cone Production
In this interrupted case study, students explore how changing climate may affect cone production in pinyon pine (Pinus edulis). Students begin by learning about mast seeding, a common reproductive strategy among many perennial plant species, a...

Improving on Nature?
In 1958, black bass were introduced into Lake Atitlan in the highlands of western Guatemala as a way to attract tourism and boost the local economy, but unforeseen complications resulted in an ecological disaster. Developed for an introductory course i...

Is Guaiacum Sanctum Effective Against Arthritis?
Dr. Beth Tonoany, a tropical population ecologist, is studying an unusual tree, Guaiacum sanctum, in the tropical forests of Central America. Interestingly, several local Ticos have told her that they use the tree for medicinal purposes. Stude...

Is Iron Fertilization Good for the Sea?
This case study describes experiments to seed the ocean with iron to encourage algae growth. It explores how human activities contribute to greenhouse effects and global warming, proposals to potentially counteract these effects and make the ocean more...

Joel E. Greengiant Learns About Peas
This case study follows purveyors of peas, Joel E. and Jolene Greengiant, as they learn about the origin, biochemistry, genetics and eventual artificial selection of sweet (wrinkled) peas, all in the context of evolutionary biology. This integrative ap...

Katrina's Troubled Waters
This case study explores some of the health issues brought to light during the flooding in New Orleans caused by Hurricane Katrina. The case encourages students to think about a variety of problems that can occur when humans are exposed to unsanitary f...

Kill the Aliens: Controlling Leafy Spurge
The majority of people in the world interact with nature in an urban setting. Management issues in urban parks tend to be more challenging than in “natural” parks for a variety of reasons, including heavy use, proximity to housing, local ad...

Killing Coyote
In this interrupted case study, students view a documentary film about a coyote hunting contest and then assume the role of various stakeholders in coyote management in the western United States to explore issues associated with wildlife management. As...

Lost? Ask a Turtle
This case study examines the events surrounding the hatching and migration of loggerhead sea turtles, specifically what mechanisms they use to head towards the ocean (once hatched) and where and how they migrate once in the ocean.  The story is wr...

Making It Fit: Using Excel to Analyze Biological Systems
In this case, students read about a biologist who needs to determine how to analyze age-at-length data, a common situation in fisheries biology. The fictional Dr. Latimer is tasked with fitting non-linear models to the data, and the case develops as he...

Mathematics in Conservation
This interrupted case study teaches probability theory and transmission genetics through their application to the conservation of the endangered Florida panther. An endangered population is unlikely to survive simply due to its small population size. B...

Mini Cases on Choosing Appropriate Statistical Tests for Ecological Data
This set of mini cases on the ecology of eastern cottontail rabbits is designed to give students practical experience using statistics in a scientific context. Given a dataset and experimental design, groups of students are asked to play the part of a ...

Mom Always Liked You Best
This interrupted case study is based on a journal article on the parenting behavior of American coots. Working through the case, students develop hypotheses and design experiments to test their hypotheses as they are given pieces of the case in an inte...

Mutualism
This case explores two-species interactions, especially mutualism, and presents students with a problem, namely, the inconsistent treatment of the concept of mutualism and symbiosis in many textbooks. It begins with a question that students will probab...

My Brother's Keeper
In this interrupted case study, students work in teams to interpret behavioral data with respect to evolutionary biology.  Specifically, the case examines the behavior of alarm calling in a certain type of squirrel, Belding's ground squirrel, whic...

Mystery in Alaska
This interrupted case study highlights the importance of energy considerations within food chains by examining the population decline of Steller sea lions along the western Alaskan coast. A ban on commercial fishing of pollock in the 1970s caused a shi...

No Bats in the Belfry
This interrupted case study investigates the geographic origin of white-nose syndrome (WNS) in little brown bats (Myotis lucifugus). WNS is a devastating fungal disease caused by the fungus, Pseudogymnoascus destructans (formerly know...

Nutrient Cycles and Pollution, Lake Michigan Style
This “clicker case” introduces students to the basics of nutrient cycling using a recent example of the expansion of a refinery on Lake Michigan. The story is told through a series of news clips from Chicago’s National Public Radio af...

On a Wing and a Prayer
The essential elements of this dilemma case are based on a real-life wetland mitigation problem. A biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has to decide whether to improve a wetland adversely impacted by toxins or restore another site instead...

Poor Devils
Cancer is usually thought to be a disease that affects individuals. But could cancer evolve to become infectious? This case follows the research on a form of transmissible cancer that is decimating the Tasmanian devil, the world’s largest carnivo...

Prairie Garden of Troubles
This "clicker case" was developed for a general biology course for non-majors. It focuses on prairie habitat ecology and restoration. Jim, a young ecologist, has created a reconstructed prairie in his backyard. His neighbors don't like it and they have...

Rabbit Calicivirus Disease - Magic Bullet or Pandora's Box?
The characters in this dilemma case, representing the scientific community and government, must make a decision about whether or not to release a virulent pathogen into the environment in order to control the rapidly expanding population of European ra...

Reproductive Isolation in Columbines
This clicker case uses plant-pollinator interactions in columbines as a biological scenario to teach students about evolution, reproductive isolation, and angiosperm reproduction. The case is based on an approach to evolution education called tree-thin...

Response to Plant Invasion
This interrupted case study provides students with an opportunity to compare and contrast methods for controlling spotted knapweed, an invasive species in the United States that has raised considerable concern in western pastures and rangeland. Student...

Restoring Resilience: Changing the Landscape Legacy in Patagonia
Sheep ranching has destroyed habitat and decimated species in many areas of the world, but in Patagonia declining wool prices provide an opportunity to turn the tide. This case study places students in the role of advisor to an international NGO that h...

Salton, A Sea of Controversy
The Salton Sea is an “accidental” lake that receives used irrigation water from the Colorado River. Humans have profoundly altered the area’s ecosystems. The Salton Sea is important for wildlife and recreation, but is now saltier than...

Sealing the Deal
This case study uses a PowerPoint-driven approach combined with role-playing to explore issues surrounding the grey seal population off the coast of New England, specifically Chatham, Massachusetts. After gathering information, the students take the pa...

Search for the Missing Sea Otters
Using a progressive disclosure format, this case study teaches students how to apply ecological principles to a real-life ecological problem, namely, the decline in sea otter populations in Alaska. Students interpret data from graphs and tables and pra...

Seeing the Forest for the Trees
This case study has for its central theme the importance of tree size in both ecology and natural resource management and is designed to introduce components of forest management and policy, the importance of ecological relationships, and the challenge...

Shooting the Poop
This group-based case study is based on research by Dr. Martha Weiss using silver-spotted skipper caterpillars (Epargyreus clarus (Lepidoptera)). These insects perform the unusual behavior of flinging their frass (excrement) great distances aw...

The Bear Facts
In this decision case, students consider the pros and cons of reintroducing grizzly bears into the northwestern United States as they learn about natural resource policy and the wildlife management decision-making process. Students consider four differ...

The Big Bad Wolf or Symbol of the American Wilderness?
Students enrolled in natural resource programs typically have classroom experience in science-based curricula with little exposure as to how to apply that science to real-life issues. This case study was designed to introduce students to understanding ...

The Buzz about Colony Collapse Disorder
Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), the widespread loss of honeybees, has devastating repercussions for the environment, industry, and the economy. This case study explores the possible causes, effects, and treatments for CCD by focusing on a family of hon...

The Case of the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker
Based on the disputed rediscovery of the ivory-billed woodpecker in April 2005, this interrupted case study tells the story of a fictional character, "Brad Murky," a student and research assistant who must decide whether the current evidence is suffici...

The Dangers of Deicing
Loss of species richness is often due to anthropogenic activity. The global decline of amphibians is one such example. This case study examines the impact of road deicing agents on amphibians living near bridges and roads treated heavily with salt duri...

The Dead Zone
This interrupted case study focuses on the seasonal hypoxic area in the Gulf of Mexico known as the Dead Zone. It follows Sue, a college student, whose father is a commercial fisherman affected by the lack of fish in his usual fishing grounds in the su...

The Deforestation of the Amazon
In this case study, students examine tropical deforestation in the Amazon from the perspective of three dominant stakeholders in the region: a peasant farmer, logger, and environmentalist. As part of the exercise, students perform a cost-benefit analys...

The Dilution Effect
In this case study students are provided with information for piecing together the story of how forest fragmentation and biodiversity loss can affect the risk of Lyme disease transmission to humans. The case introduces the dilution effect, a widely acc...

The Ecological Footprint Dilemma
Is it better to have a new parking lot on campus or use that space to develop a community garden? This is the issue presented in this "clicker case," which pulls students into the decision-making process. Students learn about concepts related to susta...

The Ecology of Opuntia Fragilis (Nuttall) Haworth
This interrupted case is based on the author's own personal research on the fragile prickly pear cactus in Stearns County, Minnesota. The data described is a product of the work of several undergraduate students at St. Johns University, which partially...

The Effects of Coyote Removal in Texas
This interrupted case study presents published data on the effect of coyote removal in Texas. It was designed to help students in introductory level biology courses understand trophic level relationships and the role of keystone species. Students inter...

The Evolution of Color Vision in Monkeys
This case study examines the evolution color vision in Old World and New World monkeys from multiple biological perspectives. This integrative approach employs both problem-based learning techniques and directed questions as students move through a ser...

The Fish Kill Mystery
In this case study, students speculate on what may have caused a major fish kill in an estuary in North Carolina. In the process, they explore how land runoff and excess nutrients affect aquatic communities, and learn about the complex life cycle of th...

The Galapagos
Using problem-based learning and role-playing, students analyze the geological origins of the Galapagos Islands, their colonization, species formation, and threats to their biodiversity in this story of a graduate student caught between local fisherme...

The Great Patagonia Land Grab
This PowerPoint case (~2.4 MB) was developed for an undergraduate, non-majors course in conservation biology. It explores the controversy surrounding land purchases in the Patagonia region of Chile and Argentina. According to local indigenous peoples, ...

The Last Spruce Grove
This case study follows a drama that unfolded around a stand of Sitka spruce trees (Picea sitchensis) on Vancouver Island, British Columbia. The stand held significant historical and cultural significance, particularly to the local first-natio...

The Mystery of the Missing Martens
This interrupted case study introduces basic modeling to investigate a decline in an American marten population on an island in Southeast Alaska. Two summer field technicians working on a long-term field ecology project for one of their professors noti...

The Perilous Plight of the Pika
This interrupted case study addresses several concepts related to climate change and its effect on the American pika. Often called an indicator species for climate change, the pika has a unique set of variables specific to its environment. Factors such...

The Poop on Composting
This interrupted case study tells the story of Miles, a freshman in college, who volunteers to help with the composting program on campus. Miles is excited about composting but his mother is hesitant to try it at home. Miles learns about the key ingred...

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 ec...

The Rocky Mountain Locust
This case explores conservation and social issues associated with the destruction of vast tracts of farmland in the Great Plains in the late 1800s caused by massive swarms of the Rocky Mountain Locust, Melanoplus spretus. The case was develope...

The Value of a Wetland
This case study introduces students to the elements of a renewable resource management project. The issue of wetland drainage, for the purpose of increasing land available for annual crop production, is used to deliver the learning outcomes. Angela, a ...

The Waiting Game
In this interrupted case study, students examine the cooperative courtship behavior of long-tailed manakins. Males of the long-tailed form leks, areas in which males display for females in groups. Leks in this species consist of two to 11 males, with t...

The Wealth of Water
Many students take the availability of water for granted. This case study, which focuses on the Cochabamba water revolt in Bolivia, is designed to encourage students to think about water as a limited natural resource. Students learn about the limited n...

The Wolf, the Moose, and the Fir Tree
In this analysis case, students study predator-prey dynamics in the Isle Royale National Park ecosystem drawing on data and findings from the article “Wolves, Moose, and Tree Rings on Isle Royale” by B.E. McLaren and R.O. Peterson published...

Threats to Biodiversity
In this case study, students learn about introduced species and how they pose a threat to biodiversity by analyzing the impact of introduced species on the native bird populations of the Hawaiian Islands. Developed for an introductory biology course, t...

To Be or Not To Be a Golf Course in Wimberley?
This interrupted case study examines the tensions that a small town in Texas faces between economic development and the preservation of a natural water resource for which the town is known. It highlights the interdependence and tensions between economi...

Too Many Deer!
A town meeting is the setting for this case study in which students explore the topics of overpopulation, bioethics, and management of urban wildlife. The case makes use of role playing, small group discussion, interrupted case techniques, and critical...

Tuna for Lunch?
This case examines mercury bioaccumulation and biomagnification within the context of the human health impacts of ingesting food (specifically, fish) contaminated with mercury. It was inspired by a 2009 USGS report on mercury in fish, sediment, and wat...

Unintended Consequences of Plant Domestication on Plant-Insect Interactions
This case study investigates how plant domestication sometimes produces unintended consequences for plant-insect interactions. The narrative follows a boy in middle school, Podrick, who goes on a class field trip and notices that there are no caterpill...

What is a Species?
This "clicker case" is modified from Martin Kelly's case study "As the Worm Turns: Speciation and the Apple Maggot Fly," also in our collection. Classic cases of incipient speciation such as the apple maggot fly and the hawthorn maggot fly are an excel...

When Harry Met Gabby
This case study addresses several concepts related to water hypoxia including physical laws governing dissolved oxygen levels and impacts to living systems during hypoxia. A survey of different factors causing reduced oxygen saturation levels on small ...

When Work Makes You Sick
This case study was inspired by a real-life scenario, and follows the story of Roberto, a migrant farmworker whose health is impacted by the usage of pesticides on a farm.  With the help of a health care provider, Roberto becomes aware of the effe...

Who Set the Moose Loose?
This “clicker case” focuses on the food web of the riparian bird communities of the Greater Yellowstone ecosystemand how community structure and productivity may be influenced by top-down mechanisms, resulting in a trophic cascade. As stude...

Why Did the Snake Cross the Road?
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 prelimin...

Why Sex is Good
This interrupted case is based on a 2005 article in Nature written by three scientists from the Imperial College London that deals with the issue of sexual vs. asexual reproduction and their relative merits—a question that has bedeviled ...

You Poured it Where?
This "clicker case" focuses on the invasive aquarium strain of Caulerpa taxifolia as a way of introducing students to issues about invasive species. Specifically, students learn to identify some of the traits that make a species potentially in...

Zombie Attack!
Students assume the roles of CDC researchers who must determine how to most effectively stop an impending Zombie apocalypse. The story line leads students through the process of developing a mathematical model of a Zombie outbreak, which they then use ...