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BIO 205 Writing Assignment 2013

This years BIO 212 Writing Assignment Theme is Biological Defenses.

All organisms face threats of attack by predators, herbivores, pathogens, and/or parasites.
In response to these threats, species have evolved remarkable morphological,
physiological, biochemical, and behavioral traits that serve in defense against potential
attack. Some of these traits are constitutive, meaning that they are always present, whereas
others are inducible, meaning that they are activated only in response to a threat.
Coevolution of the attacking organism and the organism that is under attack has often
shaped the nature of these traits. Predators and prey are said to engage in a
coevolutionary arms race, in which traits that increase predation efficacy are selected for
in predators, while traits that counteract them are selected for in prey species. It is
important to note that there are often fitness consequences for an organism that exhibits a
defense mechanism and that there is likely a trade-off between exhibiting a trait and
risking attack. Papers in all subtopics should consider these larger evolutionary
Each student will be assigned one of the ten subtopics described below. The purpose of
assigning subtopics is to help you narrow your investigations into the broader theme. Use
the description to help you select key words to begin your research.
1. Camouflage Many organisms, including plants, animals, and fungi employ camouflage
as a mechanism of defense. Camouflage is a means of concealment that prevents an
organisms from being perceived by a potential attacker by blending into the environment.
Camouflage is often considered to be a visual signal, but organisms can also conceal
themselves by smelling or sounding the like the surrounding environment. For this
subtopic, investigate an organism or group of organisms that use camouflage as a
mechanism for defense. Papers should focus on situations in which an organism blends into
the background or takes on the appearance of something that a potential attacker ignores,
such as a twig or a flower, rather than cases where an organism takes on the appearance of
something to which the potential attacker has a negative association, such as an
unpalatable insect or a large animal.
2. Mimicry and warning signals - Some plants, animals, and fungi defend themselves by
warning potential attackers that they are undesirable. These organisms are often brightly
colored, have striking visual patterns, have a strong, characteristic odor, or make a distinct
sound. Potential predators learn to associate these strong signals with an undesirable trait,
such as being unpalatable or toxic. Groups of organisms that share a undesirable trait may
share the signal discouraging predators (Mllerian mimicry). In some cases, a group of
organisms may share the signal that discourages potential attackers, but not the trait that
makes them undesirable to predators (Batesian mimicry). In yet other cases, an organism
mimics something that is much larger or more dangerous than itself to discourage potential
BIO 205 Research Paper Subtopics Spring 2013

predators. Some plants develop structures on their leaves that mimic insect eggs,
discouraging insects from laying their eggs there. For this subtopic, investigate an organism
or group of organism that exhibits warning signals or mimicry as a mechanism for defense.
Papers should focus on situation in which an organism advertises either a true or false
undesirable state, rather than cases where an organisms mimics something that causes it to
blend into the background.
3. Group behavior in animals As the saying goes, there is safety in numbers, and many
animals use groups as a means of defending themselves against or avoiding predators.
Schooling behavior in fish, flocking behavior in birds, and herding behavior in mammals
are all defensive behaviors. Other animals live in communal groups and use alarm signals
to warn each other of a potential threat. Some species, particularly among the insects, have
individuals that sacrifice themselves for the protection of the group, whereas others go on
the offensive when under attack and mob the potential predator. For this subtopic,
investigate a species that depends on group behavior for defense or investigate the
mechanistic details of a particularly type of group behavior, such as schooling.
4. Chemical defense in animals Animals have evolved a variety of mechanisms in which
chemicals are used to deter predation or pathogen attack. Some species have evolved to be
toxic or distasteful if eaten, whereas others secrete, spray, or inject chemical compounds to
discourage or disorient their attacker. For this subtopic, investigate an organism or group
of animals that use a chemical defense against predators. Alternatively, investigate a
particular trait that is used in chemical defense in a comparative context.
5. Defensive weapons, and other morphological traits in animals Many animals
have weapons, such as teeth, claws, spines, stinging structures, or horns, which they can
use to defend themselves. Other animals depend on morphological traits, such as a shell or
a tough skin, to help protect them against predators. For this subtopic, investigate an
organisms or group of organisms that use this type of defense against predators.
Alternatively, investigate a particular morphological trait that is used in defense in a
comparative context.
6. Biotic defense mechanisms Plants and animals may form mutualisms, or a symbiotic
association in which both parties gain some benefit. Often one or both parties gains
protection from potential attack. For example, some plants enter into relationships with
ants or fungi, which then defend the plant through a variety of defensive mechanisms.
Some ants form relationships with fungi in which they defend the fungus. For this subtopic
investigate a specific mutualism in which at least one partner is protected from potential
7. Autotomy Autotomy is a phenomenon in which an organism voluntarily sheds a
specific body part, such as a tail, limb, digit, or skin in order to escape a predator. Certain
reptiles, amphibians, mollusks, crustaceans, echinoderms, arachnids, insects, and even a
few mammals exhibit the ability to shed a portion of their body. However, shedding an
appendage can have energetic and fitness costs for an organism. For this subtopic,
investigate a particular species or group of species that exhibits autotomy. You may wish to
BIO 205 Research Paper Subtopics Spring 2013

explore the anatomical mechanisms by which autotomy occurs and consider the
consequences of this phenomenon.
8. Individual behavioral defenses in animals Most animals exhibit individual
behaviors that they use to avoid, or defend themselves against predators. Animals may
exhibit aggression or exhibit displays of color, pattern, or size to make them appear larger
or confuse a predator. They also may exhibit behaviors that make them appear to be dead
or otherwise unpalatable. For this subtopic, investigate a particular species that exhibits an
individual defensive behavior or investigate a specific type of defensive behavior by
9. Physical and behavioral defenses in plants Plants typically lack the ability to move
away from organisms that wish to eat them. Instead they must fight herbivores where they
stand. To deal with the threat of herbivory, plants have evolved many different
morphological traits, including spines, hairs, cuticles, or cell walls compose of lignin or
silica. A few plants, have evolved responses that involve rapid movement of leaves or
branches that makes them difficult to consume. For this subtopic, investigate a plant or
group of plants that exhibits a physical defense against herbivores. Alternatively,
investigate a particular trait that is used in defense in a comparative context. You may wish
to investigate the development of morphological traits or the mechanism for plant
10. Chemical defenses in plants - To deal with the threat of herbivory and pathogen
attack, plants have evolved many different chemical defense mechanisms. Some chemical
defense mechanisms are constitutive, whereas some are inducible. Many plants sequester
secondary metabolites, including alkaloids and terpenoids, or other compounds that make
them poisonous or uninviting to herbivores (many of these secondary metabolites are of
economic importance). Some plants produce resins, gums, or other secretions that serve to
discourage herbivores and pathogens. For this subtopic, investigate a particular type of
chemical defense in plants. You may also investigate how plants perceive herbivory and
initiate inducible defense mechanisms.

BIO 205 Research Paper Subtopics Spring 2013