Field Exercise #4

Re-Storying the West

Natural History Component

Every species tells a story dont it... (apologies to Rod)


An integral part of environmentalist rhetoric is that all living things are related to... all living things. These relationships are generally thought of as relationships of ecology, broadly defined, but this rhetoric may also be applied to 'family' relationships. Better put, there are understandable relationships between the many lineages (or lines of evolutionary descent) of animals and plants that grace and have graced the earth. The study of how lineages are related is called 'systematics'. The systematic relationships between species that are easily observed in the area of the Puget sound is what this exercise will address.

All the organisms today are classified as belonging to a series of groups. At the highest level of systematic organization, each organism belongs to one of five kingdoms'. These are the Animalia, Plantae, Protista, Monera, and the Fungi. Other systems have been proposed, but these will do for us now. Each of the kingdoms are divided into various 'phyla', the phyla into classes, the classes to orders, the orders to families, families to genera, and the genera into species. Each species belongs to only one of the divisions above it, although scientists may sometimes revise which group a species belongs to after new evidence is found. Organisms in the same group, be it an order, family, or species, share a certain number of characteristics. The more recently that a lineage of one species diverged in evolutionary time from another, then the more characters they should share. Of course, some characters may be lost during the subsequent evolution of the lineage, but that just basically just spices things up. We won't worry too much about that during this exercise because we will primarily be looking at characters that one can find casually, or find documented in a text.

Goal and objective

The goal of this exercise is that you see that species, even very different ones, are related, and give you the opportunity to specify how. This will lead you to an understanding of how systematists have grouped lineages together at each level of systematic organization. The objective is to find species that fall into the same level of systematic organization.

The game is this: Go outside and find a species, any species. It does not need to be in the taxonomic group you are studying, though it could be. Identify it to species. Then, look for another species in the same genus as the first species. Once you have found two species in the same genus, find a species not in that genus but that is in the same family as the first two species. Once you have found the three species in the same family, find a species that is not in that family, but that is in the same order. Continue up through kingdom.

You can use any resource to help direct your search. This is conceived of as a field and library exercise. You may need to plan your search for particular species using library material. Consult a zoology textbook to find descriptions of characters shared by a group at a given level of systematic organization. You will likely need to plan to find possible target species, for which you can then search in the field, in order to make a complete chain from species to kingdom. If you come to an impasse, don't quit. Substitute a species in a different group (say, family) that at at the next higher level of organization falls into the same group (say, order) as the species you initially searched for.

You need to document a number of things. First, be sure to document your search in your journal. Where did you go, what did you find? Second, make sure to list the characters shared by species at each level. Why are two species in the same genus? Which characters do they share? Why are the three species in the same family, four in the same order, etc.? Illustrate (draw) your findings if possible (meaning if the characters can be seen with a dissecting scope or less). You must document where you found each species, what it was doing, and make some reasonably acute observations of its natural history. How is the ecology of the accumulating group of species similar? Where are the differences? Record these observations of similarity and difference in the 'subject' section, under an appropriately titled heading.

People choosing to work with aquatic insects may omit the determination of the species name. However, the genus should be determined and every attempt to find three different species in the same family should be made.

You may choose to work on this in groups of two or three people. Each person should keep his or her own journal account. Please finish this exercise by Monday, Feb. 24th.

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