Climate change, collections and the classroom: Using big data to tackle big problems

Eileen A. Lacey, Talisin T. Hammond, Rachel E. Walsh, Kayce C. Bell, Scott V. Edwards, Elizabeth R. Ellwood, Robert Guralnick, Stefanie M. Ickert-Bond, Austin R. Mast, John E. McCormack, Anna K. Monfils, Pamela S. Soltis, Douglas E. Soltis, Joseph A. Cook

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


Preparing students to explore, understand, and resolve societal challenges such as global climate change is an important task for evolutionary and ecological biologists that will require novel and innovative pedagogical approaches. Recent calls to reform undergraduate science education emphasize the importance of engaging students in inquiry-driven, active, and authentic learning experiences. We believe that the vast digital resources (i.e., "big data") associated with natural history collections provide invaluable but underutilized opportunities to create such experiences for undergraduates in biology. Here, we describe an online, open-access educational module that we have developed that harnesses the power of collections-based information to introduce students to multiple conceptual and analytical elements of climate change, evolutionary, and ecological biology research. The module builds upon natural history specimens and data collected over the span of nearly a century in Yosemite National Park, California, to guide students through a series of exercises aimed at testing hypotheses regarding observed differences in response to climate change by two closely related and partially co-occurring species of chipmunks. The content of the module can readily be modified to meet the pedagogical goals and instructional levels of different courses while the analytical strategies outlined can be adapted to address a wide array of questions in evolutionary and ecological biology. In sum, we believe that specimen-based natural history data represent a powerful platform for reforming undergraduate instruction in biology. Because these efforts will result in citizens who are better prepared to understand complex biological relationships, the benefits of this approach to undergraduate education will have widespread benefits to society.

Original languageEnglish
Article number2
JournalEvolution: Education and Outreach
Issue number1
StatePublished - May 22 2017


  • Climate change
  • Instructional modules
  • Natural history
  • Specimens
  • Undergraduate education


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