Video - Films
Endangered Ecosystems, Biological Diversity and EcologyThe films listed below are excellent examples of threatened diversity and ecosystems. See also Regional listings for more films on each type of ecosystem.
Note: The title is followed by the length, producer, distributor (if different from producer), and year film was made. Unless otherwise noted, the videos listed below are VHS format. Many are available in Beta, 16mm and other formats. Some are on laser disks.
+ Indicates video sold or rented with teacher’s instruction guide.
"Amazonia: A Burning Question." 60 minutes. Wolfgang Bayer Productions. 1990.
This film concerns the Amazon rainforest and the destruction by settlers, who are burning huge sections. It is one of the few films that discuss the effect of the loss of forests on species' diversity and global climate. Dr. Thomas Lovejoy, a Smithsonian Institution biologist who has supervised experimental cuts of the forest to gauge effects on wildlife, discusses conclusions that show catastrophic effects on species' diversity when forest plots are small and isolated. This film was originally a PBS Nature program and is highly recommended.
+ "Ancient Forests." 25 minutes. National Geographic Society: Educational Services. 1992. Grades 7‑12/Adult.
The forests of the Pacific Northwest, from northern California to Tongass National Forest in Alaska, are discussed, with emphasis on the threats of logging to their survival and protection. 1992 winner of Silver Award, Houston International Film Festival.
"An Astronaut's View of Earth." 60 minutes. NOVA. Films for the Humanities and Sciences. 1992.
Views of the earth from space are not only breathtaking, but give new perspectives on the fragility of the planet and our dependence on it. Smoke from Brazil's forest burning and soil flowing into the ocean from erosion on Madagascar are visible from space. This footage is from The Dream is Alive and Blue Planet (big‑screen Imax/Omnimax productions shot aboard the Space Shuttle).
"Baobab: Portrait of a Tree." 30 minutes. Benchmark Films. 1973.
Filmed by Alan and Joan Root, this award‑winning film is superbly interesting and has not become dated. The creatures that live in the African Baobab tree both day and night present an active drama of interplay with one another and the surrounding environment. Hornbills nest in the tree, the male literally sealing the female into the nest hole and then feeding her and the young through a slit in the hole during the long nesting season. Bright‑eyed galagos, nocturnal primates, leap about the tree at night, weaver birds build their complicated apartment nests, insects and reptiles of many species are seen in their dependencies on each other. The tree is a miniature forest oasis in a sea of East African savannah.
“Biodiversity: The Variety of Life.” 42 minutes. Greater Ecosystem Alliance. Bullfrog Films. 1992.
This film explains what biodiversity is and why we should protect it. Using maps, diagrams and examples to introduce new terms and concepts, it explains fragmentation, linkage and viable population, illustrating the ways in which ecosystems are dynamic and varied. Although the focus is on the North Cascades ecosystem, general ecological principles are taught about this important subject.
"Coral Reefs. Rainforests of the Sea." 60 minutes. Nature of Things. Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and Discovery Channel. 1993.
This film depicts both the natural history and the current destruction taking place in these beautiful habitats. Some corals live to be 1,000 years old, and many live 600 years. While some films describe the threats to coral reefs, this one actually shows fishermen dynamiting reefs for fish and injecting cyanide into areas where they wish to obtain aquarium fish. These fish are often killed outright or die weeks later in commercial pet stores in the United States and elsewhere. Once dynamiting is carried out, 38 years pass before even half the species return to the reefs. Cyanide poisons fish for many square miles, and in spite of its being prohibited in most countries, enforcement is weak. Several organizations working to preserve coral reefs are mentioned and their representatives interviewed.
"Creatures of the Mangroves." 60 minutes. National Geographic Society. 1986.
The focus of this fascinating film is Borneo, whose coast is bordered on the south with mangrove swamps. Resident in this important ecosystem are the endangered Proboscis Monkeys, who slowly and delicately maneuver among the mangrove branches and eat the leaves of these aquatic trees. Without these mangroves, the monkeys will disappear along with a large variety of other species. Mangroves serve to trap the silt coming downstream, keep the waters clear for the spawning fishes and shrimp, and protect coastlines from erosion. Worldwide they are disappearing, and the film explains the ecological effects of their destruction and the many species that inhabit them.
"The Desert Doesn't Bloom Here Anymore." 60 minutes. NOVA (WGBH). PBS.
Desert ecosystems and the destruction of the American desert for development, mining and grazing are eloquently discussed and photographed.
+ "The Diversity of Life." 25 minutes. National Geographic Society: Educational Services. 1993. Grades 9‑12/Adult.
From Costa Rican rainforests to Pacific coral reefs, biological diversity is examined along with the threats to the Earth's diversity. The rising rates of extinction and the importance of saving endangered species are discussed along with the consequences of habitat destruction.
+ "Earth's Endangered Environments." Two sound filmstrips with cassettes; 14‑16 minutes each. National Geographic Society: Educational Services. 1991. Grades 5-9.
Fragile ecosystems threatened with destruction are the topic, with rainforest and wetlands emphasized.
"Exploring the High Frontier." 60 minutes. National Geographic Society. 1999.
This exciting film takes the viewer to the tops of tall trees along with the researchers who are studying the great diversity of life that resides in canopies and their ecology. Climbing up these giants is an art in itself, and researchers have been very inventive in designing apparatus to quickly propel them up the trunks. The magnificent vistas from 150 feet up an old-growth tropical forest tree are stunning, and it might surprise many to learn that they are humming with life. Giant eagles nest here, and birds of many types feed on the nectar of delicate flowers and fruit. Some types of fruit even sprout from the trunk. Orchids and other bromeliads or air plants grow on the trunks, and gradually soil is deposited, forming tiny gardens at these great heights. Bats pollinate beautiful night-blooming flowers, and during the day, monkeys, hornbills and toucans feed on fruit, later dispersing the seeds in their feces. The trees depend on these animals and other far smaller insect pollinators. The tall trees of temperate forests are not ignored, and scientists establish study seats high up in these trees. This film explains the importance of old-growth forests in producing oxygen and water vapor, as well as absorbing carbon dioxide and other gases. When they are cut, the young trees that sprout up are far less important ecologically and do not provide habitat for nesting and roosting animals. The canopy, with its key role in producing flowers and seeds for reproduction, is perhaps the most important part of the tree. This film emanates a sense of discovery that must be the same excitement felt by scientists who explore these canopies and make new discoveries and observations each day. Scientists are quantifying the importance of giant treetops in holding and retaining water, feeding and sheltering wildlife, and gas exchange. The data they are compiling will be crucial in future decisions about the preservation of old-growth forests versus their value for short-term profits.
“Grasslands.” 45 minutes. Two parts for classrooms. Ray Burley Productions for Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Nature of Things. Bullfrog Films. Grades 7-12/College/Adult. 1999.
Once among the most extensive grasslands in the world, North America’s prairies were a beautiful ecosystem with bountiful wildlife and grasses that held the soil in place. When they were turned to farmland and overgrazed by livestock, the stage was set for the 1930s Dust Bowl, in which much of the rich topsoil blew away. Remaining tracts of native grassland are visited and their complex interdependencies of plants and animals described.
+ "The Importance of Predators." 15 minutes. Agency for Instructional Technology. 1980.
Predators are seen as part of the natural cycle and an essential part of the ecology. Teacher's guide included.
"Islands: Strangers in Paradise”; "Islands: Splendid Isolation." 60 minutes each. TV New Zealand, Ltd. 1992.
Endemic island birds, insects, lizards and plants are the focuses of these films, which explain the means with which they evolved into separate species from their original immigrant ancestors. A small species of skink that floated from mainland Asia on vegetation mats to the Solomon Islands, evolved into the world's largest skink. Hawaiian honeycreepers evolved into a vast array of colorful birds from a few ancestors species. The birds of paradise of New Guinea are examples of marvelous radiation from founding species. These films are a good source of information on the fragility of island ecosystems and how they became colonized by plants and animals.
"Jewels of the Caribbean Sea." 60 minutes. National Geographic Society. 1994.
The coral reefs and their inhabitants are the subject of this extremely beautiful film, which shows how corals reproduce and stresses the slow‑growth of these organisms and their extreme fragility (the deep-water reefs were growing at the time of the Egyptian pyramid‑building).
"Korup--An African Rain Forest." 50 minutes. Partridge Films. 1981.
This remarkable film, which took many years to make, records the creatures and plants that inhabit the Korup rainforest in the Cameroon, one of the last West African rainforests. Botanists and zoologists erected scaffolds hundreds of feet high to take some unusual and beautiful shots of tree‑top wildlife, including eagles at their nest. Nectar‑covered flowers hanging from a tall tree attract bats and other nocturnal animals to pollinate them. This magnificent rainforest was later designated a national park, but it received inadequate protection. Hunters have entered the park and are eliminating many of the primates and other protected wildlife.
"Last Stands of the Giants." 60 minutes. PBS. Nature. Partridge Films. WNET. 1992.
The ecology and wildlife of the old-growth forests of the Pacific Northwest are beautifully portrayed. Among the wildlife shown: Giant Salamanders, Banana Slugs, Fishers, Cougar, Tailed Frogs, Spotted Owls and Roosevelt Elk. The wildlife is seen as dependent on the entire ecosystem dominated by the giant trees. The understory Pacific Yew is a source of an anti‑cancer drug. The politics and economics of protecting the forest are intelligently discussed.
"Life on Earth. A Natural History." 232 minutes. Written and Produced by David Attenborough. Distributed by Warner Home Video. 1979.
This 13-part series traces the evolution of the first species on Earth to the rise of insects, then land creatures such as dinosaurs, followed by the mammals and, in the last section, human beings. It provides a fascinating and well-written guide to the Earth's life forms, extinctions and their causes, biological diversity and the crucial links between plants, animals, water, climate and the soil. A book by the same title and author was published by Little, Brown & Co. in 1979.
+ "The Living Earth." 25 minutes. National Geographic Society: Educational
Services. 1991. Grades 10‑12/Adult.
This film addresses global ecosystems and how humans have profoundly affected this planet.
+ "The Living Ocean." 25 minutes. National Geographic Society: Educational
Services. 1988. Grades 7‑12/Adult.
This film describes how oceans are formed and the role they play in the biosphere, as well as animals in various habitats and how man affects this ecosystem.
"The Living Planet." 12 one‑hour programs. BBC & Time‑Life Video. Distributed by Portland State University. 1984.
Hosted and written by David Attenborough, this series is one of the best overall views of nature that has ever been filmed and is extremely valuable as a teaching tool. The Earth, its formation, environments and their wildlife are the theme, beginning with the program, "The Building of the Earth" on continental drift, land formation and geology, and gradually progressing through "The Frozen World," "The Jungle," "The Baking Deserts," "Sweet Fresh Water," "The Sky Above," "Margins of the Land," "Worlds Apart," "The Open Ocean," "The Northern Forests," "Sea of Grass," and finally "New Worlds,” showing the changes man has made in the natural world and the urgent need for conservation to preserve what is left. "Worlds Apart" concerns islands, how they are formed and the endemic species inhabiting many islands, of which a large number are endangered. Unusual examples of each ecosystem shown, combined with the well‑written, intelligent narrative, make this series move quickly. Each film provides information on endangered habitats, ecosystems and species, and a book of the same title was authored by David Attenborough.
"The Mangroves." 24 minutes. Wild South Series. Wombat Film & Video. 1986.
The focus is on an estuary in northern New Zealand, its ecology and wildlife.
“Mountains of Gold” 54 minutes. Adrian Cowell. Bullfrog Films. 1990. Grades 9-12/College/Adult.
One of four parts of a series, “The Decade of Destruction,” concerning the Amazon rainforest, this film tells the story of Brazil’s gold rush and the thousands of prospectors who pan and dredge gold in the rainforest, destroying vast areas in the process.
Note: Other films on salt marshes, estuaries, coastlines, beach clean-ups, river ecology and the Amazon River are described in the Bullfrog Films catalog (see Distributors list).
+ "Old-Growth Forest: An Ecosystem." 25 minutes. National Geographic Society: Educational Services. 1994. Grades 7‑12/Adult.
The ecology of the Pacific Northwest's forests is the subject. The film features relationships between the native plants and animals and teaches how these ecological concepts can be applied to other ecosystems.
"Rage Over Trees." 60 minutes. National Audubon Society. Movies Unlimited. With wildlife and old-growth forests at stake, the battles raged between loggers and conservationists in the Pacific Northwest are described. The endangered Northern Spotted Owl and the preservation of its habitat have caused one of the worst conflicts in recent memory in the United States, resulting in a polarization that threatened the US Endangered Species Act. When loggers and their sympathizers heard the program was to be broadcast by TBS, they contacted the sponsors who, one after the other, withdrew. To TBS' credit, the program was shown anyway, without sponsors, and in the face of criticism.
+ "Rain Forest." 2 kits of STV Interactive Videodiscs of two levels. These
discs have films, video clips and photographs, and HyperCard software. National Geographic Society: Educational Services. 1994. Grades 7‑12/Adult.
These various video systems allow students to explore articles and book excerpts and present selected parts of the material. Teachers can create new multimedia lessons geared to specific needs. (Other interactive multimedia include kits on mammals, geography, plants, animals and the cell.) The Society also produced a film of the same name in 1981 in VHS format, filmed in Costa Rica. on the ecosystem.
"Remnants of a Forest." 27 minutes. Georgia Department of Natural Resources. 1996.
This may be the only film to examine the Longleaf Pine forests of the Southeastern United States, which are 96 percent gone. It is one of America's most endangered ecosystems. There are a few stands of this forest in Georgia, and the state Department of Natural Resources produced this film. The plants and animals that survive in this ecosystem, including the endangered Red-cockaded Woodpecker and the threatened Gopher Tortoise, are the focus.
"Saguaro, Sentinel of the Desert." 60 minutes. Nature. WNET/BBC. 1986.
The Saguaro is a giant cactus rising 80 feet or more into the skies in the Sonoran Desert of the Southwest. The wildlife dependent on this species and its conservation are subjects of this film. Scenes of bulldozing these huge cacti for housing developments in Arizona are indications of the retreat of this beautiful and biologically diverse ecosystem.
"The Vanishing Prairie." 75 minutes. Walt Disney Productions. 1954.
Although this film is almost 50 years old, its vitality and drama, combined with exciting film techniques and good information, make it interesting even today. This film argued for protection of this endangered ecosystem at a time when environmental concerns were minimal. The endangered Black-footed Ferret is seen entering prairie dog burrows and chasing these rodents through their intricate tunnels. The animals were captured for the film and later released. Another endangered prairie inhabitant, the Whooping Crane, is also shown in flight and in courtship displays. These birds numbered less than 50 when this film was made. Badgers, Coyotes, Bison, Burrowing Owls, snakes, waterfowl and prairie chickens are all seen in the context of the grasslands habitat, which is a constantly changing environment, with floods in the spring and fires in the summer and fall. The renewed interest in preserving grasslands makes this a valuable film and gives insights into this ecosystem.
“Vanishing Wetlands.” 45 minutes. Two parts for classrooms. Ray Burley for Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Nature of Things. Bullfrog Films. 1997.
The ecological benefits of wetlands and results of filling and altering the flow of rivers causing floods and erosion are explained. Industrial development, levees and dams threaten the wetlands. The great swamp forests of mixed hardwood and pine that once lined the Mississippi and other rivers of North America have largely disappeared, but some efforts to restore these ecosystems are benefiting both people and the environment. Winner of the Bronze Apple of the National Educational Media Network Competition.
+ “The Wasting of a Wetland.” 23 minutes. With Study Guide. Daniel Elias. Bullfrog Films. 1991. Grades 7-12/College/Adult.
The destruction of the Everglades by industrial pollution, agriculture, diversion of water and filling serves as an example of what is happening to the unique legacy of wildlife and other attributes of wetlands. South Florida’s burgeoning population received water that once fed the “sea of grass” covering much of the southern part of the state. Award-winning film.
"Wild Islands." Three hours, three-part series: "Worlds Apart," "Arks of Life" and "Strangers in Paradise." Nature. PBS. 1998.
This interesting and visually stunning series concerns island biodiversity, the evolution of species on islands and the threats to island plants and animals. "Worlds Apart" explains the process by which animals and plants arrive on islands and gradually evolve into separate species and describes Charles Darwin's travels to the Galapagos Islands, which inspired the theory of evolution. "Arks of Life" gives equal time to Alfred Russell Wallace, who arrived at the same theory at nearly the same time, based on his long-term studies in the Indonesian region. Few people are familiar with Wallace, making this film important in terms of giving him the attention and credit he deserves. "Strangers in Paradise" identifies some of the most diverse and threatened island ecosystems, focusing on Hawaii, the Philippines and the Mascarene Islands. The rare and often beautiful native species in the remnants of their island paradises are critically imperiled, making these profiles all the more poignant. While many films have shown Hawaii's threatened species, few have focused on the Philippines, home to hundreds of endemic species, with only a tiny portion of its rainforests left uncut. Likewise, the Mascarene Islands, home to the extinct Dodo, which lived on the island of Mauritius, are rarely seen in wildlife films. Under the leadership of Carl Jones, a gifted ornithologist, the great successes of the Jersey Wildlife Preservation Trust in saving rare Pink Pigeons, Mauritius Kestrels and rare plants are profiled (see Madagascar and Other Islands chapter in this book for more on these islands). This series is an excellent introduction to the understanding of island evolution.