Activity Introduction

Quick summary: Speciation occurs when part of a population is reproductively isolated from the rest of the population (e.g. they do not interbreed), and over time become genetically unique. Their genetics become so different to the original population that if the two populations were reintroduced they either would not mate, or if they did, they would not produce viable offspring.

Lord Howe Island is one of few places where evidence of both allopatric and sympatric speciation has been found. Evidence for sympatric speciation can be more difficult to find, but has been documented on Lord Howe Island in two species of Howea palm, Howea Belmoreana and Howea Forsteriana.

In this fascinating, engaging biology lesson, students are guided through a model of speciation, taking an ancient flora or fauna from mainland Australia and thinking critically and creatively to apply selection pressures from a new environment and predict what traits will be magnified over many generations.

With thanks to Ian Hutton. Ian is a trained biologist, amongst many other skills, and has been living on Lord Howe Island since 1980. He is the author of 11 books on Lord Howe Island, including the most recent 264 page beautiful coffee table book on the World Heritage values of Lord Howe Island, contributed to some 60 papers and articles working with scientists across numerous fields, run a number of conservation and research project, and has been employed as a location guide for film documentary projects. If you are visiting Lord Howe Island, get in touch with Ian for a private guided tour, as he is keen to share his passion for the island and its environment.

Also with thanks to Joshua Yeldham.

Learning intentions:

  • Students will understand the elements required for speciation to occur
  • Students will understand how different environments provide selective pressures on organisms
  • Students will understand how adaptations help organisms survive in their environment
  • Students will understand how to identify traits that will be advantageous for specific environments.

21st century skills: 

Creative ThinkingCritical ThinkingProblem SolvingTeam Work  

Australian Curriculum Mapping

Content descriptions: 

Year 10 Science:

  • The theory of evolution by natural selection explains the diversity of living things and is supported by a range of scientific evidence (ACSSU185)

Syllabus outcomes: SC5-14LW

General capabilities: Critical and Creative Thinking

Cross-curriculum priority: Sustainability

Relevant parts of Year 10 Science achievement standards: Students evaluate the evidence for scientific theories that explain the origin of the universe and the diversity of life on Earth. They explain the processes that underpin heredity and evolution.

Topic: Biodiversity.

This lesson is part of the wider unit of work Lord Howe Island – Years 8 & 10.

Time required: 85+ mins.

Level of teacher scaffolding: Medium – Facilitate a video analysis and class discussion, supervise groups and provide guidance during the activity.

Resources required:

Keywords: Evolution, speciation, adaptation, natural selection, game, introduced species, Lord Howe Island, habitats, environmentalism, conservatorship.

Cool Australia’s curriculum team continually reviews and refines our resources to be in line with changes to the Australian Curriculum.


Teacher Worksheet

Teacher Preparation

Learning intentions: Students will...

  • ... understand the elements required for speciation to occur
  • ... understand how different environments provide selective pressures on organisms
  • ... understand how adaptations help organisms survive in their environment
  • ... understand how to identify traits that will be advantageous for specific environments.

Success criteria: Students can…

  • ... apply their knowledge of adaptations and phenotypic traits to an organism to determine how a new environment would affect it.
  • ... predict which traits will be advantageous and will magnify over many generations.

Teacher content information:
Lord Howe Island is approximately 600km east of Port Macquarie in NSW. It is a World Heritage site with high biodiversity, including seabird nesting sites, flightless birds such as the Lord Howe Woodhen, and the world’s rarest insect, the Lord Howe Island Phasmid. Approximately 75% of Lord Howe Island’s original natural vegetat

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Student Worksheet

Thought starter: Quote/provocative thought to go here…

Question 1. Watch the video to answer the following questions.

1. What type of evidence did scientists use to determine the common ancestor of all bird of paradise species was a crow-like bird?

2. What is the definition of a species?

3. What was the first step for the bird species in the video to be on their way to becoming a new species?

4. After how many generations were the mainland and island birds in the video different species?

5. If one generation (the time between an organism being born and reproducing) for the birds in the video is 3 years, calculate how many years it took the island birds to become a separate species from the mainland birds.

6. What were the two scenarios for speciation that occurred in the video? 

7.What three elements are required for speciation to occur?

8.Explain how there is now a huge diversity in bird of paradise species, evolved from a common crow-like ancestor.


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