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Trouble in Paradise

A Case of Speciation


James A. Hewlett
Science and Technology Department
Finger Lakes Community College


In this case study, students apply principles of evolution they have learned in class to create their own story explaining the evolutionary history of a previously unknown species of rodent discovered on an island in the West Indies. The case study is designed for use in a freshman introductory biology course or a course on evolution.


  • Understand the principles of evolution and classification.
  • Understand the concept of species.
  • Understand the evidence in support of evolution.
  • Develop a common name for the fictitious species of mammals and apply the rules of binomial classification to provide a scientific name.
  • Apply concepts of micro- and macro-evolution to produce an evolutionary story for the fictitious mammals.
  • Interpret simple data sets and make inferences and conclusions from that data.
  • Produce data and/or evidence in support of an original evolutionary story of the student's own creation.


Species; speciation; natural selection; gene flow; genetic drift; reproductive isolation; mammals; evolution

Topical Areas


Educational Level

High school, Undergraduate lower division



Type / Methods




Subject Headings

Biology (General)  |   Evolutionary Biology  |   Zoology  |  

Date Posted


Teaching Notes

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Randy Mitchell
Biology Department
University of Akron
Akron, OH
I modified this case slightly for use in my conservation biology class (emphasizing the conservation, downplaying the other issues). I have used it twice, and it was a big hit with the 12-15 students each time. In 2001, it was the very first case I ever used, and I simply asked students to read the case, and decide what they needed to do as conservation professionals (in small groups), including:

  1. the problem to be solved,
  2. how to solve it,
  3. what other information is needed, and
  4. the approximate cost.
The remarkably good response, and my impression that in this one class session they satisfied me that they knew enough basic biology in week 2 to allow us to move on to the non-biology parts of conservation, sold me on cases in general. This year (2003), I first had them think about the issue alone for 10 minutes, writing down some general ideas. Then they did the assignment from the previous year. It was even better this year—several students came up afterward and told me it was one of their best sessions in college.