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I have developed a series of activities, based on the evolution of mammals, which explores the different lines of evidence which are used to work out evolutionary relationships - morphological similarities, fossil evidence and molecular evidence from DNA and proteins.
Darwin realised that within the enormous diversity of life on the Earth, there appeared to be natural groupings, based on similarities and differences between different species. At that time there was no rational explanation for how these groupings had arisen but his theory of evolution by natural selection provided an explanation.
Some groupings of mammals are familiar to us, for example the domestic cat is closely related to big cats, such as the lion and tiger. Others may be more surprising, for example, the cow and the sheep are more closely related to the dolphin than to the horse. Evidence for this comes from analysis of the structure and positioning of the bones in these mammals.
Relationships between different mammals have been elucidated by observation of structural features and more recently by analysis at molecular level. The activities demonstrate how analysis of DNA and protein has verified our relatedness to other primates, and the place of dolphins within the group of mammals which includes cows and camels.
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