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Featured Article: “New York and Boston Pigeons Don’t Mix” by Joshua Sokol

In this lesson, you will learn about a new study that identified genetic similarities and differences among pigeons and about how geography may play a role. You’ll then design your own research proposal in the Going Further section.

Elizabeth Carlen, a biologist at Fordham University, wanted to know if the pigeons that live in the Boston-Washington corridor, which includes cities like Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York and Providence, are all one interconnected population. In other words, do the birds in all these cities interbreed?

To answer this question, Ms. Carlen caught pigeons with a net gun and took their blood samples during a series of road trips across the region.

Make a prediction about what her findings reveal. Do you think the pigeons from all these cities are members of one pigeon supercity? Or, do you think these pigeons just stay in their home city and don’t mix? Why?

Read the article, then answer the following questions:

1. The biologist Elizabeth Carlen and a co-author published a paper that presents the idea of a “distinct pigeon supercity” and identifies two such places. Where are they?

2. Why are there two pigeon supercities between Boston and Washington, D.C., and not one big one? What evidence suggests that they are separate entities?

3. How did the new study challenge previous studies’ findings about pigeons? What, according to Ms. Carlen, could explain why the pigeons in certain East Coast cities are genetically similar?

4. What is different about the Washington-Baltimore-Philadelphia-New York area as compared to New York-Boston? How might this explain why the pigeons in Providence and Boston are different from those in the other cities?

5. Joshua Sokol, the article’s writer, includes cultural references to cities named in the article, along with some rivalries between them. Reread the article and identify them. What do these references add to the reader’s experience? How do they affect the writer’s tone?

Ms. Carlen was curious about pigeons, so she designed an experiment to determine how closely related pigeons on the East Coast were. In fact, her research results challenged her original hypothesis.

Think about an animal or plant near where you live — perhaps one you see every day — and develop a research question about this organism’s behavior. Then come up with a possible hypothesis.

Next, design a research study that could find answers to your research question. Ms. Carlen collected and tested blood samples from pigeons living in different cities. What data could you gather in your proposed study?

Present your question, hypothesis and research design to your class to get feedback. Do your classmates and teacher feel that your proposal will produce data that will help answer your research question? Why, or why not?



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