Lesson can be found on the Lesson Plans page here.
The lesson linked above is designed for middle/high school English classes (grades 6-12). Specifically, it is designed for use with my 9th grade honors English class. This interdisciplinary lesson will help students learn more about a hybridized species in their own backyard, and provides the opportunity to learn more about a species that is still evolving. The lesson plan uses Maria Gianferrari’s picture book Coyote Moon, a short video, and an article from The New York Times to help teaches guide students through the thesis drafting process using the thesis machine. If you are not familiar with the thesis machine (developed by Sheridan Baker in his college composition book, The Practical Stylist), it is a fantastic step-by-step process to help students compose more complex thesis statements before writing an essay or paper.
Why coyotes? Because they are fascinating and controversial: perfect for engaging students! The eastern coyote (canis latrans) is defined by USDA Wildlife Services as the coyote species that resides east of the Mississippi River and east of Canada’s Hudson Bay, areas that coyotes did not inhabit prior to European settlement (Mastro, Gese, Young, & Shivik, 2012). Once extirpated from many parts of the United States by European settlers who viewed them as a dangerous threat, coyotes have expanded their geographical range exponentially over the past century (Kays, Curtis, & Kirchman, 2010). Unlike many other species, the eastern coyote has responded to human pressure by expanding both its range and population size (Prugh, Ripple, Laliberte, Brashares, Stoner, Epps, & Bean, 2009). The eastern coyote is now found in many states east of the Mississippi. In fact, they are one of the region’s top predators; they took the place of extirpated apex predators like wolves and mountain lions (Kays, Gompper, & Ray, 2008). New Jersey is home to a thriving coyote population today. Coyotes were first spotted in New Jersey in 1939 and over the past seventy-five years the species has moved into all twenty-one counties and over 400 municipalities, per the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (McBride, 2006). Due to this, residents of the northeast are faced with dealing with a species previous generations had no experience with (Gompper, 2002).
The eastern coyote is a fascinating species because scientists believe it is a hybrid species, the result of breeding between different species resulting in a new species. Speciation, or the creation of a new species from two original taxa, is a benefit of hybridization (Todesco et al., 2016). Hybrid speciation is a relatively rare occurrence because barriers, including fitness and genetics, tend to block the creation of successful new species (Todesco et al., 2016). Recent genetic tests by vonHoldt, et al. show that eastern coyotes are a mix of three species: coyote, wolf and dog (2011). While some may view this hybridization as a negative, in the case of the eastern coyote hybridization most likely enhances the adaptive potential of both species, allowing eastern coyotes to more effectively exploit available resources (Kyle et al., 2006). This evolution, which has been occurring for at least a century, is being closely watched by biologists. The eastern coyote’s expanded habitat distribution includes adaptations that allow the species to thrive in the fragmented urban and exurban ecosystems of the northeast. Western coyotes are associated with deserts and grasslands but the hybridized eastern coyote can be found in eastern forests, suburban neighborhoods, and urban parks (Weckel, Bogan, Burke, Nagy, Siemer, Green, & Mitchell, 2015).
Gompper, M. (2002). Top carnivores in the suburbs? Ecological and conservation issues raised by colonization of north-eastern North America by coyotes. Bioscience, 52(2), Retrieved from http://ufwildlife.ifas.ufl.edu/pdfs/Gompper%202002%20Top%20carnivores%20in%20the%20suburbs.pdf
Kays, R., Curtis, A., & Kirchman, J. (2010). Rapid adaptive evolution of northeastern coyotes via hybridization with wolves. Biology Letters, 6(1), 89–93. http://doi.org.proxy.lib.miamioh.edu/10.1098/rsbl.2009.0575
Kays, R., Gompper, M., & Ray, J. (2008). Landscape ecology of eastern coyotes based on large-scale estimates of abundance. Ecological Applications, 18(4), 1014-1027. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org.proxy.lib.miamioh.edu/stable/40062206
Kyle, C., Johnson A., Patterson B., Wilson P., Shami K., Grewal S., & White, B. (2006). Genetic nature of eastern wolves: past, present, and future. Conservation Genetics. (7). Retrieved from http://canadianfieldnaturalist.ca.proxy.lib.miamioh.edu/index.php/cfn/article/view/1400/1394
Mastro, L., Gere, E., Young, J., Shivik, J. (2011). Coyote (Canis latrans), 100+ Years in the East: A literature review. Addendum to the Proceedings of the 14th Wildlife Damage Management Conference. Retrieved from http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2533&context=icwdm_usdanwrc
Prugh, L., Ripple, W., Laliberte, A., Brashares, J., Stoner, C., Epps, C., & Bean, W.. (2009). The Rise of the Mesopredator [electronic resource]. Bioscience, 59(9), 779-791.
Todesco, M., Pascual, M., Owens, G., Ostevik, K., Moyers, B., Hübner, S., & Rieseberg, L. (2016). Hybridization and extinction. Evolutionary Applications, 9(7), 892-908. doi:10.1111/eva.12367
vonHoldt, B. M., Pollinger, J. P., Earl, D. A., Knowles, J. C., Boyko, A. R., Parker, H., & … Wayne, R. K. (2011). A genome-wide perspective on the evolutionary history of enigmatic wolf-like canids. Genome Research, 21(8), 1294-1305. doi:10.1101/gr.116301.110
Weckel, M., Bogan, D., Burke, R. Nagy, C., Siemer, W., Green, T., & Mitchell, N. (2015) Coyotes go “bridge and tunnel”: A narrow opportunity to study the socio-ecological impacts of coyote range expansion on Long Island, NY pre- and post-Arrival. Cities and the Environment (CATE), 8(1)., Retrieved from http://digitalcommons.lmu.edu/cate/vol8/iss1/5