ACT Reading : Comparing and Contrasting Ideas in Natural Science Passages

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Example Question #4 : Comparing And Contrasting In Natural Science Passages

"Darwin and His Influence" by Joseph Ritchie (2014)

In this passage, “selection” refers to traits that are selected for and passed on to later generations, and “species” refers to organisms that share a common ancestor and can produce viable offspring with one another.

     Early in the nineteenth century, scientists sought to understand the differences in the earth’s flora and fauna from their archeological ancestors. The prevailing view at the time was that the differences between current and previous species were unremarkable deviations from their Platonic ideal forms. This theory hinged upon the ideals of the religious-based “created kinds” theory, which state that individuals of today are products of the organisms that were present at the earth’s creation, the result of an intelligent designer. Furthermore, these individuals believed that the differences between organisms could be explained by unseen geological and astrological forces acting on organisms slowly, throughout time. Other scientists also believed that individuals had the ability to change within their lifetimes and pass on traits to their offspring efficiently and quickly through a single generation.

     Charles Darwin and other biologists, such as Alfred Wallace, were not greatly influenced by these views and hypotheses. Their propositions stated that species evolve over many generations, due to the selective pressures of their given environments. This evolution could result in the generation of divergent traits, as well as speciation and separation from the original ancestral species. The concept that organisms were not finite or present since creation was very controversial to the scientists of the period. Some saw such an idea as unsupportable, while others perceived it as heretical and fanatical.

     Darwin set out to find support for his theory through his work, On the Origins of Species by Means of Natural Selection. He was influenced by archeological discoveries of species, which appeared to have vastly different physiological appearances from present-day organisms. Darwin decided to sail around the world on a Royal Navy ship named the H.M.S. Beagle. During his travels, he was taken to the Pacific islands of the Galapagos archipelago. The volcanic islands followed a patterned distribution on either side of the Equator. The landscapes of each island varied, with different observable flora and fauna. Through scientific observations, Darwin noticed subtle variations of finches on different islands. Some finches had large hard beaks, while others had slender beaks. Beaks were differentiated from island to island. After careful study, Darwin noticed that the beaks seemed to match the food source on each island. The large beaks were specialized for breaking open hard-shelled nuts, while the slender beaks were specialized for eating certain fruits that were abundant. Darwin hypothesized that an ancestral species of finch landed on the islands, and that over generations they became adapted to the locally abundant food sources. 

     Darwin compiled multiple instances of natural selection and incorporated discoveries made by archeologists and physiologists. He surmised that species evolve over time due to the selective pressures of their respective habitats. These events occur slowly over many generations. Each species selects for advantageous traits among its members. Over time, traits selected as advantageous by environmental pressures and stressors become commonplace in the species. This niche-forming process specializes species by rewarding those with traits most suitable for reproductive success. These traits may progress into speciation of the original species, which results in the eventual development of an entirely new species. Darwin’s theory was met with opposition at the time of its publication, and the theory of evolution remains a controversial topic in several arenas of debate.

The main difference between the "created kinds" theory and natural selection is represented by which of the following statements?

Possible Answers:

The "created kinds" theory is better supported than natural selection.

The "created kinds" theory was the basis for Darwin's theory of natural selection.

The "created kinds" theory is religious based while natural selection is not.

The "created kinds" theory suggests a finite number of species on earth while natural selection assumes species evolve.

Correct answer:

The "created kinds" theory suggests a finite number of species on earth while natural selection assumes species evolve.

Explanation:

The "created kinds" theory suggests a finite number of species on earth while natural selection assumes species evolve.

This is the correct answer because it represents the main differences of the theories. Natural selection suggests that species evolve, change, and divert from themselves. This means that there is an infinite number of possible divergences not a finite amount as suggested by the "created kinds" model. No evidence in the passage suggests that either theory is correct, butter supported, religious based, or the foundation of Darwin's theory.

Example Question #45 : Science

Adapted from "Recent Views as to Direct Action of Light on the Colors of Flowers and Fruits" in Tropical Nature, and Other Essays by Alfred Russel Wallace (1878)

The theory that the brilliant colors of flowers and fruits is due to the direct action of light has been supported by a recent writer by examples taken from the arctic instead of from the tropical flora. In the arctic regions, vegetation is excessively rapid during the short summer, and this is held to be due to the continuous action of light throughout the long summer days. “The further we advance towards the north, the more the leaves of plants increase in size as if to absorb a greater proportion of the solar rays. M. Grisebach says that during a journey in Norway he observed that the majority of deciduous trees had already, at the 60th degree of latitude, larger leaves than in Germany, while M. Ch. Martins has made a similar observation as regards the leguminous plants cultivated in Lapland.” The same writer goes on to say that all the seeds of cultivated plants acquire a deeper color the further north they are grown, white haricots becoming brown or black, and white wheat becoming brown, while the green color of all vegetation becomes more intense. The flowers also are similarly changed: those which are white or yellow in central Europe becoming red or orange in Norway. This is what occurs in the Alpine flora, and the cause is said to be the same in both—the greater intensity of the sunlight. In the one the light is more persistent, in the other more intense because it traverses a less thickness of atmosphere.

Admitting the facts as above stated to be in themselves correct, they do not by any means establish the theory founded on them; and it is curious that Grisebach, who has been quoted by this writer for the fact of the increased size of the foliage, gives a totally different explanation of the more vivid colors of Arctic flowers. He says, “We see flowers become larger and more richly colored in proportion as, by the increasing length of winter, insects become rarer, and their cooperation in the act of fecundation is exposed to more uncertain chances.” (Vegetation du Globe, col. i. p. 61—French translation.) This is the theory here adopted to explain the colors of Alpine plants, and we believe there are many facts that will show it to be the preferable one. The statement that the white and yellow flowers of temperate Europe become red or golden in the Arctic regions must we think be incorrect. By roughly tabulating the colors of the plants given by Sir Joseph Hooker as permanently Arctic, we find among fifty species with more or less conspicuous flowers, twenty-five white, twelve yellow, eight purple or blue, three lilac, and two red or pink; showing a very similar proportion of white and yellow flowers to what obtains further south.

In this passage, the author __________.

Possible Answers:

agrees with all of the writers and scientists mentioned in the passage

disagrees with Martins but agrees with Grisebach

disagrees with all of the writers and scientists mentioned in the passage

disagrees with Hooker but agrees with Martins

disagrees with the "recent writer" quoted in the first paragraph, but agrees with Grisebach

Correct answer:

disagrees with the "recent writer" quoted in the first paragraph, but agrees with Grisebach

Explanation:

Answering this question requires you to read closely, as many theories are mentioned throughout the passage and keeping track of them can be quite challenging. In the first paragraph, the writer quotes a "recent writer," who then quotes evidence in the form of observations by M. Grisebach and M. Ch. Martins. In the second paragraph, the writer says that he agrees with the evidence of the "recent writer" (in other words, Grisebach and Martins), but not with the theory the "recent writer" has come up with to explain that evidence. So, the author disagrees with the "recent writer," but agrees with Grisebach, because the author goes on to quote Grisebach's own theory, with which the author agrees.

Example Question #61 : Critical Comprehension

"Cacti" by Ami Dave (2013)

Cacti are plants suited to the desert, and we must always keep this factor in mind when growing ornamental cacti in our gardens, for it helps us provide cacti with conditions that allow them to survive and thrive. For example, a cactus should never be watered over its body, as it will start to rot. This is because it is covered with a waxy coating which prevents water loss through evaporation. When one waters the cactus over its body, the waxy coating is washed away and the plant begins to rot. The amount of water that one must supply to the cactus is very much dependent upon the season and upon the climate of the place. During the summer season one should water cacti every four days, whereas in the rainy season, once every fifteen days is quite enough.

Cacti need a minimum of two and a half hours of sunlight per day; however, they should not be kept in the sun all day because they may wrinkle when exposed to too much bright sunlight. Unlike other plants, cacti produce carbon dioxide during the day and oxygen during the night, so they are ideal plants to be kept in bedrooms to freshen up the air at night.

If a cactus is to thrive and prosper, the size of the pot in which it is grown needs to be monitored carefully. The pot should always be a little smaller than the plant itself because it is only when the plant has to struggle to survive that it will thrive. If the pot is too spacious and the plant does not need to struggle, chances are that the cactus will die. Similarly, if a cactus shows no signs of growth, stop watering it. Watering should be resumed only when the plant begins to grow again.

The substrata of a cactus pot is ideally composed of pieces of broken bricks at the bottom, followed by a layer of charcoal above the bricks, and then coarse sand and pebbles above the charcoal. Leaf mould is the best manure.

Grafting cacti is very simple. A very small piece of the cactus plant should be stuck with tape to the plant that needs grafting. The smaller the piece, the easier it is to graft. To reproduce cacti, one has to simply cut off a piece of the cactus, allow it to dry for a few days, and then place it over the cacti substrate. It will automatically develop roots.

It is very easy to differentiate between cacti and other plants that look like cacti. All cacti have fine hair at the base of each thorn. The so-called “thorns” are in fact highly modified leaves which prevent loss of water through transpiration. If one ever gets pricked by cacti thorns, one should take tape, place it over the area where the thorns have penetrated the skin, and then peel it off. All of the thorns will get stuck to the tape and will be removed.

The development of a new cactus from a graft is similar to what other biological phenomenon?

Possible Answers:

An unsuccessful kidney transplant

A lizard that regrows its tail

The birth of a genetically unique organism from an egg

A nematode worm that develops into two separate organisms when cut in half

A cut that successfully heals

Correct answer:

A nematode worm that develops into two separate organisms when cut in half

Explanation:

The passage discusses how grafting is a relatively simple procedure, and all that one must do is cut off a piece of the cactus and place it in an environment that supports its growth: the new cactus will develop roots. This is most similar to when a worm develops into a new organism when part of it is cut off. A lizard regrowing its tail is not similar to a graft, since the original organism simply regains the part that it lost. In the same vein, a cut that heals also involves an organism healing itself, not splitting apart to form a new organism. Birth from an egg or a failed organ transplant are not similar to the effects of a cactus graft.

Example Question #1 : Comparing And Contrasting Ideas In Natural Science Passages

"Abstraction in the Sciences" by Matthew Minerd (2014)

Thinking “abstractly” is not a term that means quite the same thing in all of the sciences. Although we rarely think about this, it plays a key role in almost all of our day-to-day thought. Consider a zoologist working in a lab with many animals. When she is studying any individual tiger, she is not completely worried about the particular tiger—at least not primarily. Instead, she is trying to figure out certain characteristics of tigers in general. By meticulous testing, the zoologist carefully works out the physiology of tigers and considers what are absolutely necessary elements of their physical makeup. Even when she places a tiger in different habitats, her sight is aimed at the general condition of tigers and their needs in general.

However, things become even stranger when you start to consider how we think about mathematical objects. Consider the case of geometric figures. A triangle appears to be rather simple for most of us to think about. You can draw a triangle on a piece of paper, each side having a certain thickness and length. However when you think about this in geometry class, the triangle’s edges have no real thickness. Neither a point nor a line has a thickness for the mathematician. Such a thickness only exists on our paper, which represents the point or line. Consider also a line drawn on a piece of graph paper. Technically, there are an infinite number of points in the line. Indeed, even between 4.5 and 4.6, there are an infinite number of numbers—for example 4.55 is between them, then 4.555 between 4.55 and 4.6, and 4.5555 between 4.555 and 4.6, et cetera. In all of these cases, the mathematical reality takes on a very peculiar character when you consider it in the abstract. However, the concrete triangle remains very tangible and ordinary. Likewise, 4.6 and 4.5 inches still have 0.1 inches between them. Nevertheless, in the abstract, mathematical realities are quite strange, even stranger then the idea of “a tiger in general.”

What are the two things being contrasted in the first paragraph?

Possible Answers:

None of the other answers

Captive tigers and wild tigers

Captive tigers in general and scientifically tested captive tigers

Living tigers and ancient tigers

Individual tigers and the general properties of tigers

Correct answer:

Individual tigers and the general properties of tigers

Explanation:

The first paragraph is focusing on the strange way that a scientist can consider "tigers in general." She is not so much concerned with any particular tiger as much as she is with the general "makeup" of tigers. These two ways of looking at the matter are the most directly contrasted point in this paragraph.

Example Question #4 : Compare / Contrast

Adapted from An Introduction to Astronomy by Forest Ray Moulton (1916 ed.)

The ancient Greeks, at a period four or five hundred years preceding the common era, definitely undertook to find from systematic observation how celestial phenomena follow one another. They determined very accurately the number of days in the year, the period of the moon's revolution, and the paths of the sun and the moon among the stars; they correctly explained the cause of eclipses and learned how to predict them with a considerable degree of accuracy; they undertook to measure the distances to the heavenly bodies, and to work out a complete system that would represent their motions. The idea was current among the Greek philosophers that the earth was spherical, that it turned on its axis, and, among some of them, that it revolved around the sun. They had true science in the modern acceptance of the term, but it was largely confined to the relations among celestial phenomena.

The conception that the heavens are orderly, which they definitely formulated and acted on with remarkable success, has been extended, especially in the last two centuries, so as to include the whole universe. The extension was first made to the inanimate world and then to the more complicated phenomena associated with living beings. Every increase in carefully recorded experience has confirmed and strengthened the belief that nature is perfectly orderly, until now every one who has had an opportunity of becoming familiar with any science is firmly convinced of the truth of this principle, which is the basis of all science.

Which best describes the contrast between modern and ancient science?

Possible Answers:

While ancient science focused mainly on the heavens, contemporary science is much more biological.

None of the other answers

While modern science has many branches, ancient science had a more limited number of subjects that it studied.

While ancient science investigated visible bodies, contemporary science is concerned with many realities that would have been invisible in past ages.

The two have very little in common at all.

Correct answer:

While modern science has many branches, ancient science had a more limited number of subjects that it studied.

Explanation:

This selection does not do much to contrast the two sciences, as it is focusing on the character of Greek science in general, particularly its concern with celestial bodies and their motions. However, at the end of the first paragraph, there is a helpful sentence: "They had true science in the modern acceptance of the term, but it was largely confined to the relations among celestial phenomena." This implies that they had only one "real" branch of science, namely that which was "confined to the relations among celestial phenomena." The implication is that in contrast with this single science, modernity has a number of different sciences.

Example Question #1 : Textual Relationships In Science Passages

Adapted from “Humming-Birds: As Illustrating the Luxuriance of Tropical Nature” in Tropical Nature, and Other Essays by Alfred Russel Wallace (1878)

The food of hummingbirds has been a matter of much controversy. All the early writers down to Buffon believed that they lived solely on the nectar of flowers, but since that time, every close observer of their habits maintains that they feed largely, and in some cases wholly, on insects. Azara observed them on the La Plata in winter taking insects out of the webs of spiders at a time and place where there were no flowers. Bullock, in Mexico, declares that he saw them catch small butterflies, and that he found many kinds of insects in their stomachs. Waterton made a similar statement. Hundreds and perhaps thousands of specimens have since been dissected by collecting naturalists, and in almost every instance their stomachs have been found full of insects, sometimes, but not generally, mixed with a proportion of honey. Many of them in fact may be seen catching gnats and other small insects just like fly-catchers, sitting on a dead twig over water, darting off for a time in the air, and then returning to the twig. Others come out just at dusk, and remain on the wing, now stationary, now darting about with the greatest rapidity, imitating in a limited space the evolutions of the goatsuckers, and evidently for the same end and purpose. Mr. Gosse also remarks, ” All the hummingbirds have more or less the habit, when in flight, of pausing in the air and throwing the body and tail into rapid and odd contortions. This is most observable in the Polytmus, from the effect that such motions have on the long feathers of the tail. That the object of these quick turns is the capture of insects, I am sure, having watched one thus engaged pretty close to me.”

How does the quotation from Mr. Gosse relate to the evidence provided by other scientists earlier in the passage?

Possible Answers:

It contradicts the previous evidence and supports a different hypothesis.

It supports the same conclusions that the previous evidence supports.

It has nothing to do with the previous evidence.

It suggests that the earlier evidence applies not only to hummingbirds but to another type of bird as well.

It suggests that some of the previous evidence may be true, but some may be false.

Correct answer:

It supports the same conclusions that the previous evidence supports.

Explanation:

Let’s consider what Mr. Gosse is saying. The passage says, “Mr. Gosse also remarks, ‘All the hummingbirds have more or less the habit, when in flight, of pausing in the air and throwing the body and tail into rapid and odd contortions. This is most observable in the Polytmus, from the effect that such motions have on the long feathers of the tail. That the object of these quick turns is the capture of insects, I am sure, having watched one thus engaged pretty close to me.’”  Paraphrasing that, Mr. Gosse is saying that he has seen hummingbirds contort themselves in the air and he’s pretty sure they’re doing this in order to catch insects. The evidence provided by scientists earlier in the passage supports the idea that hummingbirds eat insects, just like Mr. Gosse’s does. We can’t say that Gosse’s evidence contradicts the earlier evidence, suggests that some of it may be false, or has nothing to do with the previous evidence. It also doesn’t suggest that the previous evidence can be applied to birds other than hummingbirds, because Mr. Gosse says that he is only discussing hummingbirds and we are to infer that the Polytmus is a hummingbird. So, the correct answer is that “it supports the same conclusions that the previous evidence supports.”

Example Question #2 : Comparing And Contrasting In Natural Science Passages

Adapted from “Humming-Birds: As Illustrating the Luxuriance of Tropical Nature” in Tropical Nature, and Other Essays by Alfred Russel Wallace (1878)

The food of hummingbirds has been a matter of much controversy. All the early writers down to Buffon believed that they lived solely on the nectar of flowers, but since that time, every close observer of their habits maintains that they feed largely, and in some cases wholly, on insects. Azara observed them on the La Plata in winter taking insects out of the webs of spiders at a time and place where there were no flowers. Bullock, in Mexico, declares that he saw them catch small butterflies, and that he found many kinds of insects in their stomachs. Waterton made a similar statement. Hundreds and perhaps thousands of specimens have since been dissected by collecting naturalists, and in almost every instance their stomachs have been found full of insects, sometimes, but not generally, mixed with a proportion of honey. Many of them in fact may be seen catching gnats and other small insects just like fly-catchers, sitting on a dead twig over water, darting off for a time in the air, and then returning to the twig. Others come out just at dusk, and remain on the wing, now stationary, now darting about with the greatest rapidity, imitating in a limited space the evolutions of the goatsuckers, and evidently for the same end and purpose. Mr. Gosse also remarks, ” All the hummingbirds have more or less the habit, when in flight, of pausing in the air and throwing the body and tail into rapid and odd contortions. This is most observable in the Polytmus, from the effect that such motions have on the long feathers of the tail. That the object of these quick turns is the capture of insects, I am sure, having watched one thus engaged pretty close to me.”

Which of the following does the author contrast in this passage?

Possible Answers:

The beliefs of historical scientists and the beliefs of scientists of the author’s time

The author’s opinion about what hummingbirds eat and Mr. Gosse’s opinion about what hummingbirds eat

Hummingbirds with long tails and hummingbirds with short tails

Hummingbirds that eat flower nectar and hummingbirds that eat insects

The results of feeding a hummingbird insects and the results of feeding a hummingbird flower nectar

Correct answer:

The beliefs of historical scientists and the beliefs of scientists of the author’s time

Explanation:

Nowhere in the passage is the feeding of hummingbirds by humans mentioned, so “The results of feeding a hummingbird insects and the results of feeding a hummingbird flower nectar” cannot be correct. While a hummingbird with a long tail, the Polytmus, is mentioned, it is not contrasted with any short-tailed hummingbirds. The author appears to agree with Mr. Gosse’s opinion about what hummingbirds eat, so “The author’s opinion about what hummingbirds eat and Mr. Gosse’s opinion about what hummingbirds eat” cannot be correct either. This leaves us with “Hummingbirds that eat flower nectar and hummingbirds that eat insects” and “the beliefs of historical scientists and the beliefs of scientists of the author’s time.” While the passage is concerned with what hummingbirds eat, it doesn’t suggest that some types of hummingbirds eat only nectar and others eat only insects. Hummingbirds are considered as an entire group; they’re never divided into “hummingbirds that eat insects” and “hummingbirds that eat flower nectar.” This leaves us with one answer choice, the correct one: “The beliefs of historical scientists and the beliefs of scientists of the author’s time.” These beliefs are contrasted in the paragraph’s second sentence: “All the early writers down to Buffon believed that they lived solely on the nectar of flowers, but since that time, every close observer of their habits maintains that they feed largely, and in some cases wholly, on insects.”

Example Question #1 : Comparing And Contrasting In Natural Science Passages

"Comparing Technologies: A Difficult Endeavor" by Matthew Minerd (2014)

Comparisons of technology are often difficult to make, not only because of the rapid pace of improvements but also because of the many new applications that are available as time progresses. If we were to consider the contemporary graphing calculator and the calculation capacities of computing machines from fifty years ago, there would be astounding improvements between these two devices. However, the improvements are not reduced merely to speed improvements. A graphing calculator also has numerous output capacities that far exceed those available much older computers, none of which had the ability to represent their output in any manner even closely resembling that of contemporary devices. Merely consider the display capacities of such a device. These enable users to input many new kinds of information, enabling design engineers to design new hardware functions to match the new means of collecting user input.

The situation is even more obvious when one considers the numerous functions performed by a modern “smartphone.” These devices are equipped with a panoply of features.  With all of these new functions come many new types of computational capabilities as well. In order to process images quickly, specialized hardware must be designed and software written for it in order to ensure that there are few issues with the phone’s operation. Indeed, the whole “real time” nature of telecommunications has exerted numerous pressures on the designers of computing devices. Layers of complexity, at all levels of production and development, are required to ensure that the phone can function in a synchronous manner. Gone are the days of asynchronous processing, when the computer user entered data into a mainframe, only to wait for a period of time before the processing results were provided. Today, even the smallest of digital devices must provide seamless service for users. The effects of this requirement are almost beyond number.

Which of the following best describes the contrast between newer and older calculating devices?

Possible Answers:

Older calculating machines broke down far more frequently than do modern calculators.

They differ both in capabilities as well as overall speed.

Newer calculators are blazingly faster than older calculating machines.

Previous calculators had no output capacities whatsoever.

None of the other answers

Correct answer:

They differ both in capabilities as well as overall speed.

Explanation:

In the selection, there are two key sentences: "However, the improvements are not reduced merely to speed improvements. A graphing calculator also has numerous output capacities that far exceed those available much older computers." The passage marks two points regarding the difference between the older and newer devices. They differ both with regard to speed and their ability to output data. The answer that speaks of having differing "capabilities" captures the distinction in output well enough for our answer. The other answers either bring in data not listed in our passage or are too narrow in scope.

Example Question #3 : Textual Relationships In Science Passages

Adapted from “Birds in Retreat” in “Animal Defences—Active Defence” in Volume Four of The Natural History of Animals: The Animal Life of the World in Its Various Aspects and Relations by James Richard Ainsworth Davis (1903)

Among the large running birds are forms, like the African ostrich, in which the absence of powers of flight is largely compensated by the specialization of the legs for the purpose of rapid movement on the ground. For straightforward retreat in open country nothing could be more effective; but another kind of adaptation is required in birds like rails, which are deficient in powers of flight, and yet are able to run through thickly-growing vegetation with such rapidity as to commonly elude their enemies. This is rendered possible by the shape of their bodies, which are relatively narrow and flattened from side to side, so as to easily slip between the stems of grasses, rushes, and similar plants. Anyone who has pursued our native land-rail or corn-crake with intent to capture will have noted how extremely difficult it is even to get within sight of a bird of this sort. 

Certain birds, unfortunately for themselves, have lost the power of flight without correspondingly increased powers of running, and have paid the penalty of extinction. Such an arrangement, as might be anticipated, was the result of evolution in islands devoid of any predatory ground-animals, and a classic example of it is afforded by the dodo and its allies, birds related to the pigeons. The dodo itself was a large and clumsy-looking species that at one time abounded in the island of Mauritius, which, like oceanic islands generally, possessed no native mammals, while its indigenous reptiles were only represented by lizards. The ubiquitous sailor, however, and the animals (especially swine) which he introduced, brought about the extinction of this helpless bird in less than a century after its first discovery in 1598. Its memory is now only kept green by a few contemporary drawings and descriptions, certain museum remains, and the proverb "as extinct as a dodo.” A similar fate must overtake any organism suddenly exposed to new and unfavorable conditions, if devoid of sufficient plasticity to rapidly accommodate itself to the altered environment.

One of the main differences between an ostrich and a rail, according to the passage, is __________.

Possible Answers:

ostriches are smaller than rails

ostriches use their running abilities to catch prey, whereas rails use their running abilities to avoid predators

ostriches are living things whereas rails are inanimate objects

ostriches run over open terrain, and rails run through thick grass 

ostriches live in grassy areas whereas rails live in the desert

Correct answer:

ostriches run over open terrain, and rails run through thick grass 

Explanation:

Ostriches and rails are discussed in the first paragraph. The author says that “For straightforward retreat in open country nothing could be more effective; but another kind of adaptation is required in birds like rails, which are deficient in powers of flight, and yet are able to run through thickly-growing vegetation with such rapidity as to commonly elude their enemies.” The passage then goes on to detail how rails have thin bodies that allow them to dart through the grass. This means that the correct answer is “ostriches run over open terrain whereas rails run through thick grass.” 

The passage is describing the rail, a type of bird, and not using the word “rail” to describe part of a train track or a barrier on an elevated area, so “ostriches are living things whereas rails are inanimate objects” cannot be correct. Ostriches are never said to be smaller than rails or predators, so neither “ostriches are smaller than rails” nor “ostriches use their running abilities to catch prey, whereas rails use their running abilities to avoid predators” can be correct. Finally, rails are said to live in areas containing and have adapted to “thickly-growing vegetation” and ostriches are said to have developed a different adaptation suited to “open country,” so “ostriches live in grassy areas whereas rails live in the desert” cannot be correct either.

Example Question #51 : Science Passages

Adapted from “Birds in Retreat” in “Animal Defences—Active Defence” in Volume Four of The Natural History of Animals: The Animal Life of the World in Its Various Aspects and Relations by James Richard Ainsworth Davis (1903)

Among the large running birds are forms, like the African ostrich, in which the absence of powers of flight is largely compensated by the specialization of the legs for the purpose of rapid movement on the ground. For straightforward retreat in open country nothing could be more effective; but another kind of adaptation is required in birds like rails, which are deficient in powers of flight, and yet are able to run through thickly-growing vegetation with such rapidity as to commonly elude their enemies. This is rendered possible by the shape of their bodies, which are relatively narrow and flattened from side to side, so as to easily slip between the stems of grasses, rushes, and similar plants. Anyone who has pursued our native land-rail or corn-crake with intent to capture will have noted how extremely difficult it is even to get within sight of a bird of this sort. 

Certain birds, unfortunately for themselves, have lost the power of flight without correspondingly increased powers of running, and have paid the penalty of extinction. Such an arrangement, as might be anticipated, was the result of evolution in islands devoid of any predatory ground-animals, and a classic example of it is afforded by the dodo and its allies, birds related to the pigeons. The dodo itself was a large and clumsy-looking species that at one time abounded in the island of Mauritius, which, like oceanic islands generally, possessed no native mammals, while its indigenous reptiles were only represented by lizards. The ubiquitous sailor, however, and the animals (especially swine) which he introduced, brought about the extinction of this helpless bird in less than a century after its first discovery in 1598. Its memory is now only kept green by a few contemporary drawings and descriptions, certain museum remains, and the proverb "as extinct as a dodo.” A similar fate must overtake any organism suddenly exposed to new and unfavorable conditions, if devoid of sufficient plasticity to rapidly accommodate itself to the altered environment.

How does the second paragraph relate to the first paragraph?

Possible Answers:

The first paragraph describes birds people eat; the second describes birds people do not eat.

The first paragraph describes a type of flightless birds that has gone extinct; the second describes species of flightless birds that are still living.

The first paragraph describes flightless birds that learned to defend themselves from predators by fleeing them; the second paragraph describes a flightless bird that did not adapt in this way.

The first paragraph discusses predators of flightless birds, the second describes prey of flightless birds.

The first paragraph provides a personal anecdote while the second paragraph provides historical information.

Correct answer:

The first paragraph describes flightless birds that learned to defend themselves from predators by fleeing them; the second paragraph describes a flightless bird that did not adapt in this way.

Explanation:

Examining the two paragraphs, one can find that the first one talks about ostriches and rails, two types of flightless birds that adapted in specific ways to be good at fleeing predators. The second paragraph tells the story of the dodo, a flightless bird that did not have time to develop such adaptations. From here, we can pick out the correct answer: “The first paragraph describes flightless birds that learned to defend themselves from predators by fleeing them; the second paragraph describes a flightless bird that did not adapt in this way.”

As for the other answer choices, nothing in the passage discusses people eating birds, so we can ignore the answer choice “The first paragraph describes birds people eat; the second describes birds people do not eat.” The answer choice “The first paragraph describes a type of flightless birds that has gone extinct; the second describes species of flightless birds that are still living” would be correct if it flipped around the paragraphs to which it refers, but as it is written, it is incorrect. The passage doesn’t say anything about the predators of flightless birds in the first paragraph or the prey of flightless birds in either paragraph, so “The first paragraph discusses predators of flightless birds, the second describes prey of flightless birds” cannot be correct, and since the first paragraph does not provide a personal anecdote, “The first paragraph provides a personal anecdote while the second paragraph provides historical information” cannot be correct either.

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