Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Paul G. Wolf


The mission statements of Utah State University and the Department of Biology, as well as the requirements of funding agencies like the National Science Foundation encourage an integration of teaching and research. I have attempted to achieve that in my dissertation work by using tools I originally created to support and inform my biological research projects to teach science content and inquiry to middle school and undergraduate students.

Chapter 2 of this dissertation reports the results of surveys for Hymenophyllum wrightii, a fern with independent gametophyte populations in the Pacific Northwest, which improved our understanding of the range, distribution, and habitat requirements of this species that was previously thought to be rare. The result of these surveys led to the removal of the species from the Forest Service's Alaska Region Sensitive Species List and provided a first report of the species in the contiguous United States. A preliminary genetic data analyses of gametophyte populations found during the surveys sets the stage for future work to determine the relationships between the independent gametophyte populations and sporophytes growing in Haidi Gwaii, British Columbia and East Asia, which is important for understanding their evolutionary and conservation potential.

Chapter 3 describes an attempt to explore the population genetics of another fern with independent gametophyte populations, Crepidomanes intricatum in the Appalachian mountains of Eastern North America. This species apparently exists only as gametophytes, which raises interesting questions about how and when it was established, and its conservation and evolutionary potential. This population genetics analysis was not able to be completed, but led to an analysis of potential sources of error in genotyping-by-sequencing datasets and to the development of a set of software tools for evaluating the quality of these datasets.

To help better visualize the evolutionary processes at work in populations of ferns with independent gametophytes, I developed an interactive software tool to simulate populations of ferns in a virtual 3-dimensional space. Chapter 4 describes that tool, an educational activity using it to teach population genetics and science inquiry to undergraduates, and the results of a study demonstrating its effects on student content learning and confidence in their ability to perform inquiry. This tool and the activity built around it have been used in undergraduate genetic laboratories at Utah State University since 2011.

The apparent benefits of this simulation tool led to a collaboration with educators and the development of another 3-dimensional simulation tool to teach eight grade students about the effects of the environment and human impacts on living organisms. Chapter 4 presents an educational activity using this tool that has been used as part of a larger National Science Foundation funded project to train teachers to use technology in the classroom. The simulations are publicly available and have been used by hundreds of students in two Utah school districts.

Together, these projects demonstrate on way that research to expand knowledge can lead to tools to impart knowledge to students.

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