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Population Variation Determination

The theory of natural selection includes the observation that individuals in a population of any
species vary in many inheritable traits. This variation is what makes natural selection possible.
Offspring will resemble, but not be identical to, each other and their parents.
The variation found among species members may provide some members with a slight
advantage. This advantage can lead to an increase in that variant within the population. Some
of the variation within a species is measurable. For example, one tree may be slightly taller at
maturity than its sibling. One dog may run milliseconds faster than its litter mate. This small
speed advantage my make the dog able to catch the rabbit first, avoid starvation, and thereby
live long enough to reproduce. Variation is essential to the survival of a species in an everchanging ecosystem.
Measures of Central Tendency
When looking at a set of data, we are often interested in knowing the center of the group of
values. If you are evaluating your exam score, you may want to know the average score for
the class. There are all sorts of statistical measures used to evaluate data and make
predictions. The three measures of central tendency are the mean, median, and mode.
Mode - the value that appears most frequently in your data set
Median - the value that appears in the middle of the data set. The median is found by
examining the values in descending order and finding the value in the exact middle.
Mean - also known as the average. To calculate the mean, add up all of the values and divide
by the number of values. The mean can be influenced by outliers, or values that fall well outside
the range of other values in the data set.
Range - while not a measure of central tendency, the range gives an indication of the spread of
a data set. It describes the largest and smallest values in the set.
Normal distribution - Often, when variation within a population is graphed as a histogram, it
will make a bell-shaped curve. This curve shows that most members of the population are close
to the mean, with fewer and fewer members having more extreme values. Below is a histogram
of SAT test scores showing a normal distribution.

Procedure - Part I: Variation in Hand Length

Every student will measure the length of his or her own left hand. The measurement (in
centimeters) should be taken form the wrist to the end of the middle finger
1. Design a data table in your notebook to record the hand lengths of your classmates and the
class average. Be sure to include individual hand lengths, and the mean, median, mode,
and range.
2. Collect the data and record it, then write it on the white board to share it with the class
3. Calculate the mean, median, mode, and range and record them
4. Make a histogram of the hand length data on a sheet of graph paper. You can choose
whatever bin (category size) you want. For example 16.0-16.5cm, 17.0-17.5cm, etc
5. Sketch a rough normal distribution curve over your histogram similar to the example on the
first page.
Part II - Modes of Natural Selection
Use the class hand data to consider the following scenarios. Each of the hands measured are
now bird beaks. The bird population lives on an island that contains many different sizes of
seeds. This allows for birds with different sizes of beaks to be successful. For each scenario,
sketch a new curve using a different colored pencil over your normal curve showing how the
population will change. Then explain why this change will occur.
A) Directional Selection
A fungus infects all the plants that produce smaller seeds, and most of those plants die.
B) Disruptive Selection
The bird population is transported to another island. On this island, the predominant plants are
ones that grow in the safety of crevices (crack in tree stumps, rocks, and soil) and have very
small seeds that are difficult to reach, and plants that produce very large seeds.
C) Stabilizing Selection
A large predator is introduced to the original island where the bird population lives. The birds
with larger beaks are usually the ones with the largest biomass. This makes them the slowest
birds in the population, thus increasing their risk of predation. The predators urine is highly
acidic and is killing off most of the plants that grow in the crevices (the plants that produce very
small seeds).
Part III - Analysis Questions
1. Describe a situation when it might be useful to use median over mean.
2. Describe a situation when it might be useful to use mode over median.
3. Humans are typically born between 5.5 and 10 pounds, giving a mean of 7.5 pounds.
a. What type of natural selection would result in this narrow window of birth rates? Why?
b. Some say current medical advancements are reversing this trend. Make an argument
supporting this statement.
4. Millions of people hunt deer every year in the United States. In the past, people hunted for
food. Today, most hunters hunt for sport, and large deer with big antlers are considered
the most impressive trophies. Produce what has happened to the deer gene pool over
the years and how this relates to natural selection.