A pioneering team of zoologists and botanists, in search of new creatures and plants, gets rare access to Brazil's highest and most isolated mountain, the Pico da Neblina.
Fish dominate the planet's waters through their astonishing variety of shape and behaviour. The beautiful weedy sea dragon looks like a creature from a fairytale, and the male protects their eggs by carrying them on his tail for months. The sarcastic fringehead, meanwhile, appears to turn its head inside out when it fights. Slow-motion cameras show the flying fish gliding through the air like a flock of birds and capture the world's fastest swimmer, the sailfish, plucking sardines from a shoal at 70 mph. And the tiny Hawaiian goby undertakes one of nature's most daunting journeys, climbing a massive waterfall to find safe pools for breeding.
Professor Richard Fortey journeys high in the Rocky Mountains to explore a 520-million-year-old fossilised seabed containing bizarre and experimental lifeforms that have revolutionised our understanding about the beginnings of complex life. Among the amazing finds he uncovers are marine creatures with five eyes and a proboscis; filter-feeders shaped like tulips; worm-like scavengers covered in spikes but with no identifiable head or anus; and a metre-long predator resembling a giant shrimp.
Life and Death explores the impact of Darwin’s ideas on our understanding of the meaning of extinction and the interconnections between all life on earth and the environment. Darwin learned many lessons from the giant fossils of extinct animals he found in Argentina and Chile. He eventually revealed to us the unpalatable truth that the logical conclusion to evolution is not perfection but extinction. The extinction of one species creates an environmental niche for new species to fill. Darwin’s theory also gives us vital knowledge we can use to help prolong the existence of our species by respecting the interconnections between all elements of the natural world and the environment. It’s a story in which Darwin’s ideas are taken up with great enthusiasm by his followers throughout the 20th century. But humanity misses one opportunity after another to acknowledge and reduce its destructive impact on the planet. As a result we have set in motion the sixth mass extinction of life on earth. And we are running out of time to do something about it by preserving ecological "hotspots" like certain rainforests which are some of the most productive cradles of evolution. This programme is a warning, but also a celebration, of the knowledge Charles Darwin gave us in his theory of evolution. It confirms that Darwin’s theory continues to inform our understanding of ourselves, our planet and the intricate interconnections between all life on earth.
In Tokyo, there are unapproachable "lost islands" with unspoiled environs and rich wildlife. Minami Iwo-to, part of the Ogasawara island chain, is about 1,300km from the Japanese capital. Normally, entry is banned to protect the environment. An exception was made in 2017 for the first comprehensive scientific survey in 10 years. The island compresses multiple climate zones into a small area, offering researchers a rare opportunity to view evolution in action. Braving an arduous climb and a swarm of seabirds, the team discovers one new species after another.
2019 • Nature