Investigating how undergraduate Biological Sciences students understand tree-thinking: results from two Brazilian institutions
Phylogenetic Systematics (PS) is a biological field that investigates how organisms relate to one another, being phylogenetic trees the most direct visual representations of evolution. Currently, PS plays a central position in evolutionary studies. However, there is still a limited comprehension of such subject by people in general and scientists; that limitation is not only related to its own interpretation, but also to its meaning. Skills to visualize evolutionary kinship in a phylogenetic tree abstraction are collectively called ‘tree-thinking’, which is still a critical educational component. Biological Sciences undergraduate students from two Brazilian institutions were asked to evaluate PS, and we could verify that students were already able to recognize common ancestry and point out features of organisms from the tree. Students have shown greater difficulty, though, in recognizing kinship degrees amongst taxa, perceiving similar trees with different node rotations, and mapping time. Participants have demonstrated the acquisition of these skills as PS is taught in introductory curricular subjects. Such acquisition was not the same with both groups, as very different profiles, including formal knowledge of phylogeny and evolution contents, have been noted.
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