Communicating Phylogeny: Evolutionary Tree Diagrams in Museums
Wiley, Edward O.
Article, scholarly/refereed, author accepted manuscript
Teresa MacDonald & E. O. Wiley (2012) Communicating Phylogeny: Evolutionary Tree Diagrams in Museums. Evolution Education Outreach (2012) 5:14–28. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s12052-012-0387-0
Is Version ofdoi:10.1007/s12052-012-0387-0
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Tree of life diagrams are graphic representations of phylogeny—the evolutionary history and relationships of lineages—and as such these graphics have the potential to convey key evolutionary ideas and principles to a variety of audiences. Museums play a significant role in teaching about evolution to the public, and tree graphics form a common element in many exhibits even though little is known about their impact on visitor understanding. How phylogenies are depicted and used in informal science settings impacts their accessibility and effectiveness in communicating about evolution to visitors. In this paper, we summarize the analysis of 185 tree of life graphics collected from museum exhibits at 52 institutions and highlight some potential implications of how trees are presented that may support or hinder visitors’ understanding about evolution. While further work is needed, existing learning research suggests that common elements among the diversity of museum trees such as the inclusion of anagenesis and absence of time and shared characters might represent potential barriers to visitor understanding.
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