The modern comparative anatomy is a result of the French naturalist Pierre Belon’s 1555 discovery that humans have skeletons made of the same elements, arranged in the exact same way. From this humble beginning, knowledge of comparative anatomy advanced rapidly in the 18th century with the work of two French naturalists–Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon, and Louis-Jean-Marie Daubenton–who compared the anatomies of a wide range of animals.
French zoologist Georges Cuvier established the field on a stronger scientific foundation in the 19th century. He claimed that animals’ functional and structural characteristics are a result of their interactions with their environment. Cuvier also disregarded the 18th-century notion that all members of the animal kingdom were arranged in one linear series, from the simplest to the most advanced.
Cuvier instead arranged all animals in four groups according to their body plans: mollusks and articulates. The mid-19th century British anatomist Sir Richard Owen was another great figure in the field. His vast knowledge of the structure of vertebrates did not stop him from challenging the theory of evolution by Natural Selection. This theory was created and made famous by Charles Darwin. Comparative anatomy was a key part of Darwin’s theory. It helped to revolutionize the field by explaining how structural differences among species resulted from their evolutionary descent through natural selection from a common ancestral.
Homologous body structures
Comparative anatomy studies have largely focused on homologous body structures since Darwin’s day. This means that they are the same evolutionary origin as their current function. Although these structures might look different and serve different purposes, they can be traced back to a common structure that existed in both the ancestral animal and their current function. The forelimbs of birds, bats, and rodents all have different functions. However, they can still be traced back to common structures in animals that were ancestral to them. Analogous structures may look similar because they serve the same function but have different evolutionary origins. The wing of birds is a prime example.
Human examples are a promising way to improve evolution instruction (Hillis 2007, Pobiner 2012). Many students are interested in learning evolution through human examples. It can also increase cognitive and affective barriers to learning (Pobiner, et al. 2018), particularly for students who find the human evolutionary process to be extremely contentious. These complications make it difficult for students to decide when, how, and why they should integrate human examples into evidence-based evolution instruction.
Human examples can benefit evolution instruction
Students prefer to learn about humans over other taxa. This is supported by instructors’ classroom experiences. These include student course evaluations, informal survey results, and instructor class evaluations. Paz-y-Mino and Espinosa (2009, a more general survey sampling method) found that 78% of students surveyed preferred an evolution course that included human examples to one that focused on animals and plants. This may be due to the intrinsic personal relevance of learning about people (Pobiner 2012, Wilson 2005), or greater familiarity with other taxa (Seoh and al. 2016). This is a broad topic that helps students understand human diversity, uniqueness, human health, disease, origins, and what it takes to be human (Alles & Stevenson 2003; Boyd and al. 2000; Donovan et al. 2019; Larsen 2014; Nesse and Williams 2012; Stearns et al. 2010).
Human examples can be used to motivate students by increasing their familiarity with evolution (Keller 1987). It also helps bridge the gap between course content, students’ life experiences, and course content. The Teaching Evolution through Human Examples project (TEtHE), recently developed and tested a human-focused curriculum for AP Biology. It showed a trend in improved learning gains and acceptance of evolution across all ten classrooms (Pobiner et. al. 2018). This is important because, as we will discuss below, the success and relevance of this human-focused curriculum were dependent on the use of cultural and religious sensitivity teaching strategies. These studies and others (e.g). These studies, along with others (e.g. Hillis 2007 and Pobiner 2012), give reasons to be optimistic about human examples.
It is important to establish that students can learn from human examples. However, classroom studies have not yet identified whether human examples offer more value than other taxa. Research on evolutionary misconceptions has provided the most reliable comparisons between human examples, and other taxa. A small but growing number have discovered contradictory results about how students’ evolutionary beliefs are affected by human examples. Sometimes, the human example maybe m