We propose that understanding the processes of evolution and the connected changes in diversity that occur in natural systems, is fundamental to environmental literacy, and is a critical component in environmentally responsible citizenship. Developing an understanding of the steps by which elementary, middle and high school students learn this content is essential in producing school-leavers who are able to apply their understanding of diversity and evolution to deciding on policies and personal actions that are consistent with their environmental values.
Diversity occurs at many levels in natural systems, from genetic diversity in populations, through diversity of species in communities, to diversity of habitats and ecosystems. Diversity at any level is not a constant, but rather it changes through a number of different processes. For example, genetic diversity in populations is increased by sexual reproduction and mutation, and is decreased by selection. Changes in the diversity in systems at different levels have direct effects on diversity in systems at other levels (e.g. habitat fragmentation can lead to smaller population sizes and reduced genetic diversity). Humans are increasingly altering the structure of natural populations, and are consequently having dramatic impacts on diversity at all levels, be that through altering the rate of births and deaths in populations; by removing selection pressures by introducing invasive species; or by altering ecosystems through agricultural or urban development. Since evolutionary theory is not merely science that can describe what has happened in the past, but also science that is predictive of what will happen in the future, it empowers us with a crucial understanding of the consequences of human alterations to natural systems.
Our past studies mainly focused on how students apply fundamental principles to processes in the context of biodiversity and evolution. We are now working on teaching experiment. Relevant curriculum materials will be online soon.