Evolution Episode 3: Extinction

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Evolution Episode 3: Extinction
PBS Documentary

Series Overview

Evolution determines who lives, who dies, and who passes traits on to the next generation. The process plays a critical role in our daily lives, yet it is one of the most overlooked -- and misunderstood -- concepts ever described.

The Evolution project's eight-hour television miniseries travels the world to examine evolutionary science and the profound effect it has had on society and culture. From the genius and torment of Charles Darwin to the scientific revolution that spawned the tree of life, from the power of sex to drive evolutionary change to the importance of mass extinctions in the birth of new species, the Evolution series brings this fascinating process to life. The series also explores the emergence of consciousness, the origin and success of humans, and the perceived conflict between science and religion in understanding life on Earth.

The Evolution series' goals are to heighten public understanding of evolution and how it works, to dispel common misunderstandings about the process, and to illuminate why it is relevant to all of us.

Evolution Episode 3: Extinction
Five mass extinctions have occurred since life began on Earth. Are humans causing the next mass extinction? And what does evolutionary theory predict for the world we will leave to our descendants?

Chapter 1. Prologue (2:44)

Introduction to the show's theme: the balance between evolution and extinction

A brief definition of extinction and basic facts about species' lifespans
The natural process of extinction creates opportunities for new species
Are humans causing a new mass extinction?

Chapter 2. The Mother of All Extinctions (9:10)

Geological research into the planet's largest mass extinction

Uncovering fossils from the Permian period
Exploring the cataclysmic event that destroyed almost all Permian species and began the Triassic period
Description of the dramatic environmental changes that produce mass extinction

Chapter 3. The Dinosaurs Win Out (6:04)

Dinosaurs and mammals after the Permian extinction

The evolution of dinosaurs, the dominant species after the Permian extinction
The evolution of small mammals, minor species during the dinosaurs' era
Researching dinosaur and mammal fossils in the Gobi desert

Chapter 4. KT-Extinction, Triumph of Mammals (3:46)

The end of dinosaur supremacy, and the rise of mammals

The K-T extinction event: an asteroid impact that changed life on earth
Dinosaurs die, but small mammals survive
Mammals grow larger, diversify, and spread out across the world
Emergence of monkeys, apes, and, eventually, human-like primates

Chapter 5. Thailand and the Empty Forest (13:19)

Human dominance and the escalating rate of animal extinction

Are humans causing the next great extinction?
Exploring animal disappearance in a pristine-looking Thai forest
The disappearance of large carnivores, the sign of a failing ecosystem
Natural habitats and the relationships among plants, herbivores, and carnivores
Human destruction of natural habitats, a primary cause of extinctions

Chapter 6. Hawaii and Biological Invasion (9:17)

Invasive species, and the extinction of native life in Hawaii

The formation of Hawaii's unique ecosystem
Fossil research in a Hawaiian sinkhole: documenting the arrival of Polynesians, Europeans, and invasive species
Humans spread invasive species around the world
Two examples of invasive species: zebra mussels and brown tree snakes
The costs of trying to contain invasive species

Chapter 7. Planet of Weeds (6:39)

Understanding "weed species"

What makes invading species successful?
Humans: the most invasive weed species on earth
The accelerating rate of extinction as a threat to all life
In North Dakota, using one weed species to battle another: leafy spurge versus flea beetle

Chapter 8. Return to Thailand (5:31)

The health of the Thai ecosystem, and of our planet

Is it too late to stop change in the Thai forests?
Knowledge, the greatest tool against extinction
Can we slow the rate of human-caused species extinction and return to the natural cycle of evolution and extinction?