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In common experience, the term "adapting" usually refers to changes during an organism's lifetime. In contrast, evolutionary biologists use the term "adaptation" to refer to a heritable trait that increases fitness. To help students reconcile these different concepts, this activity introduces the concept of phenotypic plasticity (the ability of an organism to adapt to different environments within its lifetime). Questions guide students in analyzing how the balance between the advantages and disadvantages of a characteristic (e.g. an animal's color) can vary in different circumstances, how phenotypic plasticity can be a heritable trait that can optimize fitness in a variable environment, and how natural selection can influence the amount of phenotypic plasticity in a population. This activity is designed to help high school students meet the Next Generation Science Standards and the Common Core State Standards.
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