Exercises for College Students

Exercises can range from simple look-ups to thought experiments where students must frame and test hypotheses. Some of these work best with the advanced search tool. You may need to suggest search terms (examples italicized). Some questions will work best when we have more species in the database. We've emphasized mammals, our best developed content, and birds, but other taxa can (and should) be mined too.

Comparative anatomy

During a paleontological dig of Pleistocene deposits in western Canada, you discover a bone. Your skills as a comparative anatomist tell you that the animal was unguligrade, with unfused but moderately elongated metapodials.

a. To what animal family does the bone probably belong?

b. There are toothmarks on the bone. A colleague suggests it was gnawed on by a gray wolf or grizzly bear. Puncture marks, probably from upper canines, are 4 cm apart. Breaks in the bone suggest that the animal that bit it had three cheek teeth in its upper jaw. Use ADW to propose what animal may have chewed on the bone. Is this animal likely to have killed its prey?


Find two disease-causing organisms or parasites. Describe aspects of their morphology or life history that probably are adaptations to their parasitism.

Autopsy of a dead zoo animal revealed liver flukes (Fasciola hepatica). Use ADW to determine whether you need to worry about the other animals in the same or nearby enclosures, and what you can do to minimize further problems.

Ecology and conservation

Why do some species become endangered? Can you find natural history characteristics that are shared by many endangered species, which are not often found in non-endangered species? Support your hypotheses with examples.*

Use ADW to describe a simple food web with at least six species. How many trophic levels do you have in your web? Can you construct a web with more trophic levels than the first one you described? Why or why not?

In mammals, is there any relationship between the trophic level of a species and its economic importance to us? Why are most of the species we eat herbivores? Are the same patterns evident in birds and fish?

You have been hired as an environmental consultant to a power company that wishes to erect towers and power lines through a variety of habitats. Generate some potential impacts (negative and positive) of power line construction on terrestrial animals. Remember that telephone line data may also be relevant. Cite examples.

Evolution and behavioral ecology

Can you find any association between reproduction and food habits in the Chiroptera (bats)? Develop a hypothesis to explain your results.*

When one sex is larger than another in species of birds and mammals, most often males are larger than females. A common explanation of such sexual size dimorphism is that males compete for access to females or for resources that would attract females, and natural selection favors size in such contests (a male-male competition hypothesis).

a. Gather data to test this hypothesis.* Polygynous, dimorphic

b. Propose two hypotheses for why females in a species might be larger than males--one which reformulates the male-male competition hypothesis, and one which is completely different. Find species that support or reject your hypotheses. Female larger, polyandry

Do social species (defined or restricted somehow) tend to come from a few groups, or are they spread throughout the animal kingdom (or the Class Mammalia? or whatever). If grouped, what are the characteristics of those groups? What do these tell us about the evolution of sociality?*

Find an example of a male bird that incubates eggs. Find an example of a female Passerine (Order Passeriformes) who sings.

Can you find any similarities in the natural history of birds that practice vocal mimicry? Does mimicry cluster in certain families? Propose two hypotheses to explain the evolution of vocal mimicry. Why might some birds be commonly mimicked?* mimicry, imitate, imitation, will work better with more narratives

How does body size relate to the food habits of animals? To gestation period? Use ADW to discover patterns and think about how to explain these patterns E.g. there are very few small folivores -- why? Should be able to "discover" that most small animals eat energy-rich diets)

*Species in the ADW database are not randomly drawn from the Animal Kingdom. How does this fact affect your answers to the starred exercises? Does it affect those not starred? Discuss ways you may re-address the same questions to avoid the problems of non-random sampling.