Steve Backshall reveals the incredible influence that insects and their close relatives have on Earth's many ecosystems. In the grasslands of South America the landscape has been created almost solely by one team of insects - grass-cutter ants. Across the world's oceans one tiny creature plays such a key role that, without it, the largest animal on our planet, the blue whale, could not exist. And in East Africa the savannah would quickly be swamped in dung were it not for the activities of a certain beetle. Yet the greatest influence of all comes from a group of insects that have ultimately changed the colour and diversity of our planet.
In the first episode, the team uncover the hidden lives of three iconic animals. In the Kalahari Desert the team put cameras on wild meerkats for the first time, allowing scientists to finally understand what these miniature mammals get up to underground. Heading to Cameroon, Gordon works with scientist Mimi Swift, who is desperate to understand whether Kimbang, a four-year-old orphan chimp, has the skills she needs to be able to join a chimp family living wild in the forest. Leaving Africa for Argentina, the team have penguins carry tiny cameras far out to sea on an epic journey of up to 300 kilometres (200 miles). For the first time, scientists are able to see the tactics these charismatic characters use to catch their prey.
The episode begins in the South American rainforest whose rich variety of life forms is used to illustrate the sheer number of different species. Since many are dependent on others for food or means of reproduction, David Attenborough argues that they couldn't all have appeared at once. He sets out to discover which came first, and the reasons for such diversity. He starts by explaining the theories of Charles Darwin and the process of natural selection, using the giant tortoises of the Galapagos Islands (where Darwin voyaged on HMS Beagle) as an example. Fossils provide evidence of the earliest life, and Attenborough travels a vertical mile into the Grand Canyon in search of them.
Africa's largest herd of elephants and a fearless pride of young lions come face to face in an epic fight for survival. Rarely do their worlds collide, until now. This is no chance conflict; nature has played its part. Drought has weakened the elephants, and the lions are desperately hungry. The dawn of the giant killers has arrived.