Natural Resources, School of


Date of this Version



The American Biology Teacher, Vol. 85, No. 2, pp. 91–96. DOI:


Used by permission.


There is an emphasis on survival-based selection in biology education that can allow students to neglect other important evolutionary components, such as sexual selection, reproduction, and inheritance. Student understanding of the role of reproduction in evolution is as important as student understanding of the role of survival. Limiting instruction to survival- based scenarios (e.g., effect of food on Galapagos finch beak shape) may not provide students with enough context to guide them to complete evolutionary reasoning. Different selection forces can work in concert or oppose one another, and sexual selection can lead to the selection of trait variants that are maladaptive for survival. In semistructured interviews with undergraduate biology students (n = 12), we explored how leading students through a sequence of examples affected student reasoning of evolution. When presented with an example where sexual selection and survivability favored the same variant of a trait, students emphasized survival in their reasoning. When presented with a scenario where sexual selection selected for trait variants that were maladaptive for survival, more students described how two different selection forces contributed to evolutionary outcomes and described reproductive potential as a part of fitness. Moreover, these students considered how the maladaptive traits were inherited in the population. Scenarios where sexual selection and survival-based selection were opposed improved student ability to reason about how factors other than survival impact evolutionary change. When instructors introduce students to scenarios where survival-based selection and sexual selection are opposed, they allow students to change their reasoning toward inclusion of reproduction in their evolutionary reasoning.