Speciation, or the evolutionary process that forms new species, is an abstract concept that can be difficult to understand. Multiple factors, such as genetics and animal behavior, influence the process. But an educational card game created by a laboratory in the Department of Genetics is making speciation easier to comprehend.

The Payseur Lab, whose research focuses on evolution and genetics, is also committed to outreach and service to the community, including educating students about complex research topics. Postdoc scholar Megan Frayer and genetics professor and lab director Bret Payseur created the speciation card game after brainstorming several ideas.

“We collaborated with Travis Tangen and his team at the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation and Kevin Niemi at WISCIENCE to develop resources to help teachers teach speciation,” says Frayer. “I learned a lot about how outreach and teaching resources are developed.”

In the card game — fittingly named Speciation — players compete to form new species with cards that denote factors that contribute to speciation. The game is designed for a middle and high school audience, but anyone interested in understanding speciation can play.

“Speciation is important to understand because speciation is the process that generates biodiversity,” says Frayer. “The game can help students understand important aspects of speciation — such as the different types of reproductive isolation — in a way that is fun and engaging. I hope the game will also help students connect with research, as the game features many diverse examples of speciation research.”

Students playing with graduate student Emma Howell at the Wisconsin Science Festival.

Students got a chance to play Speciation during the 2022 Wisconsin Science Festival, which was held Oct. 10-16. Members of the Payseur Lab engaged with students, who enjoyed the game.

“Even with the limited amount of time they had, the students asked good questions and seemed to be learning,” says Frayer. “I hope that players appreciate that the complexity is part of what makes speciation interesting and fun to study — every instance is unique!”

Creating the Speciation card game was made possible with funding from the National Science Foundation.

To learn more about the Payseur Lab outreach and service activities, please visit