Teaching the Evolution → Ecology → Biodiversity → Ecosystem Services Continuum as an Integrated Whole

A Transformative Tool in Sustainability Education

"A major task for evolutionary biologists is to explain the origin of biodiversity."
— Peter R. Grant

Reductionism in education fragments the story of life, making it less intelligible while disconnecting students from Nature. Evolution reveals the unity in diversity of life. An understanding of the evolutionary process leads to comprehension of the principles of ecology and appreciation of how irreplaceably precious the diversity of life is to humanity, through ecosystem services or 'Nature's gifts'. This integrated continuum forms the basis for studying the life sciences and natural history—the stories of life.

Darwin explained that it is not the strongest nor the most intelligent of species that survive, but the species most responsive to change, so it is an ignorance of evolution that perpetuates the competitiveness ('survival of the fittest') ideology (Costall, 2004). Darwin's work and writings included the importance of mutualism and co-evolution, and inspired the new field of ecology (Haekel, 1866).

'United in a single theme, evolution and ecology provide a powerful lens through which to view life's web, forming the foundation of an integrated and underutilized perspective on Nature' (Sampson, 2005). According to biologists like Betsey Dyer, today's biodiversity is billions of years of evolutionary symbiosis (in Olson, 2005).

Many people, however, lack knowledge about biodiversity, and fail to perceive a link between species preservation and humanity (Foster-Turley, 1996). Making these connections allows students to see the essential value of ecosystem services such as soil regeneration and water purification.

A further vital reason for teaching this integrated unit at all levels is to effectively address the sixth mass extinction event, for which modern culture is mainly responsible. 'The science of biodiversity has become the science of our future' (Levin, 2004).

'As educators, we must demonstrate that the marvelous, interwoven complexity that characterizes every ecosystem, ancient and modern, is the result of a co-evolutionary dance that has required millions upon millions of years' (Sampson, 2005).


Costall, A (2004). From Darwin to Watson (and cognitivism) and back again: The principle of animal-environment mutuality. Behavior and Philosophy, 32 (Special issue): 179-195.

Foster-Turley, P (1996). Making biodiversity conservation happen: The role of environmental education and communication. GreenCOM, Washington, DC

Haekel, E (1866). General Morphology of Organisms. Georg Reimer, Berlin

Levin, SA (Ed.) (2004). Encyclopedia of Biodiversity. Elsevier, Amsterdam, 4666 pp.

Olson, G (2005, September). Kropotkin vs Darwin — Cooperation as an evolutionary force. Common Ground.

Sampson, SD (2005, September). The real crisis in evolution teaching. Edge [Online].

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