Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Thank you National Geographic and the Waitt Foundation.

Here at WideWorldScience we are proud to announce that the field component of the lizard project is now being supported by a National Geographic Society Waitt Grant.  The generous support from this grant will allow Dr. Dan Warner, me, and our collaborator Alexis Harrison to step up our work in central Florida and reach an even wider audience of students through innovative educational outreach and partnerships with classrooms around the country.  This grant will allow us to:

1) Learn more about evolution by natural selection in the wild.

As the high school students who followed our work in real time last spring already know, we have an ambitious experiment currently underway.  We are attempting to answer the question of “What effect does the sex ratio of a population have on natural selection in that population?”  An animal’s sex (whether it is male or female) is one of its most significant traits that can determine its ability to survive in a particular setting.  For vertebrate animals (like our lizards) in the wild little is known about how the proportion of males to females affects the survival of both sexes.  What does it take to survive in a male dominated world? Is that different in a female dominated world?

To work to answer these questions, we are closely studying small populations on nine living laboratory islands.  Four of the islands have majority female populations and five of the islands have majority male populations.  Each of the founding lizards on these islands has been carefully measured and marked.  We also have taken DNA samples from the founding lizard population on each island and plan to track parentage in each successive generation. We will be looking closely at the sex ratios in each generation, survival rates for individuals and which sets of traits give an animal the best chance of survival in the available environments. In short, this work will give us the chance to answer interesting questions about evolution and sexual selection that have never been answered before.

2) Bring the experience of field work in evolutionary ecology into the classroom.   

At WideWorldScience, we believe that there is too much distance between the science students usually learn in school and cutting edge of research in the field.  With the field component of the Lizard Project, we are trying to bring exciting field work into the classroom.  Students and teachers from partner classrooms will follow our work through this blog as we prepare to go into the field.  This will allow for an inside look into the process of science.  Students will become familiar with our study questions, hypotheses and development of our methods.  Then as we head out to the islands to check on our lizards along Florida’s Intra Coastal Waterway, students will stay engaged through daily Skype chats from the field and frequent blog updates.  This will give students the chance to ask questions live and in real time as they get a window into the process of science as it happens.

If you are a teacher or a student who would like to be a part of the National Geographic supported Lizard Project this spring, please drop us a line at aaronmreedy@gmail.com 

Thanks again to the National Geographic Society and the Waitt Foundation for supporting science and our efforts to bring science to the classroom!

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