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Found in: science, social studies; 6-8; 9-12

The recognition that geography affects speciation has its basis in observations made by 17th and 18th century explorers, Darwin and Wallace, and Wegener. In 1967, Robert MacArthur and E.O. Wilson published The Theory of Island Biogeography that showed that an island’s size and the immigration and extinction rates of species could predict the number of species on an island. Big islands would have more species than small islands. The concept of “island” has since been applied to habitat fragments: forest parcels in farmland, mountaintops and valleys, reefs, and drifting continents. The following lessons and resources will help explain how geography influences the evolution of species.




  • Biogeography: Where Life Lives In this brief (1:49) video, students 6-12 are introduced to biogeography, the study of the geographic distribution of species. The video can be downloaded. Discussion questions and standards are included.
  • Island Biogeography (9:50) (6-12) A longer introduction to concepts with real world applications. Less polished than the PBS video but goes into greater detail.
  • Island Apocalypse (5:19) (6-12) E.O. Wilson describes the experiment that confirmed his hypothesis later developed in The Theory of Island Biogeography. Standards are listed.
  • Island Biogeography and Invasive Species (41:01) This is a Yale University lecture and probably best for grades 9-12. Links to chapters provide easy access to the sections on biogeography and critique of biogeography.
  • Island Biography: Jed Murdoch & Terri Donovan This series examines the concepts of biogeography and they relate conservation biology. This is best for high school students or as professional development. Parts 2 and 4 illustrate the use of spreadsheets, which may more than necessary for the classroom:

The series is also available on the University of Vermont website. Island Biogeography
Transcripts are provided here as well as other tools.


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