Meet slime molds: the brainless blobs that can learn, make decisions, and navigate mazes. Who says you need brains to be smart? Extremely primitive life-forms called slime molds can navigate mazes, choose between foods, and create efficient networks—no brain required. New research on these organisms, which are neither plant nor animal, could help reveal the fundamental rules underlying all decision making.
The Maldives are the lowest country in the world-and getting lower, due to rising sea levels. Especially at risk is the island's reef system, the biggest in the Indian Ocean, with over 200 types of coral and thousands of tropical fish species. Witness the race to preserve this marine paradise from the ravages of climate change.
If you have ever wondered what would happen in your own home if you were taken away and everything inside was left to rot, the answer is revealed in this programme which explores the strange and surprising science of decay. For two months, a glass box containing a typical kitchen and garden was left to rot in full public view within Edinburgh Zoo. In this resulting documentary, Dr George McGavin and his team use time-lapse cameras and specialist photography to capture the extraordinary way in which moulds, microbes and insects are able to break down our everyday things and allow new life to emerge from old. Decay is something that many of us are repulsed by, but as the programme shows, it's a process that's vital in nature. And seen in close up, it has an unexpected and sometimes mesmerising beauty.
2011 • Nature
With a million species at risk of extinction, Sir David Attenborough explores how this crisis of biodiversity has consequences for us all, threatening food and water security, undermining our ability to control our climate and even putting us at greater risk of pandemic diseases. Extinction is now happening up to 100 times faster than the natural evolutionary rate, but the issue is about more than the loss of individual species. Everything in the natural world is connected in networks that support the whole of life on earth, including us, and we are losing many of the benefits that nature provides to us. The loss of insects is threatening the pollination of crops, while the loss of biodiversity in the soil also threatens plants growth. Plants underpin many of the things that we need, and yet one in four is now threatened with extinction. Last year, a UN report identified the key drivers of biodiversity loss, including overfishing, climate change and pollution. But the single biggest driver of biodiversity loss is the destruction of natural habitats. Seventy-five per cent of Earth's land surface (where not covered by ice) has been changed by humans, much of it for agriculture, and as consumers we may unwittingly be contributing towards the loss of species through what we buy in the supermarket. Our destructive relationship with the natural world isn’t just putting the ecosystems that we rely on at risk. Human activities like the trade in animals and the destruction of habitats drive the emergence of diseases. Disease ecologists believe that if we continue on this pathway, this year’s pandemic will not be a one-off event.
2020 • Nature
In nature, living long enough to breed is a monumental struggle. Many animals and plants go to extremes to give themselves a chance. Uniquely, three brother cheetahs band together to bring down a huge ostrich. Aerial photography reveals how bottle-nosed dolphins trap fish in a ring of mud, and time-lapse cameras show how the Venus flytrap ensnares insect victims. The strawberry frog carries a tadpole high into a tree and drops it in a water-filled bromeliad. The frog must climb back from the ground every day to feed it. Fledgling chinstrap penguins undertake a heroic and tragic journey through the broken ice to get out to sea. Many can barely swim and the formidable leopard seal lies in wait.