Survivors: the animals and plants that time has left behind

well welcome everybody and thank you

today it's my great pleasure to

introduce to you professor Richard 40

who is an emeritus merit researcher at

the Natural History Museum in London

Richard served on the Council of the

Royal Society between 2001 and 2003 and

in 2006 he was awarded the Michael

Faraday prize for excellence in public

communication of science he's been

president of the Paley on to graphical

society he's been president of the

Geological Society of the British Isles

and he was also the Coulier professor

for the public understanding of science

and technology at the University of

Bristol this talk is related to his book

which was also televised you may have

seen the television series on the BBC if

you haven't you're in for a real treat

you're in for a real treat anyway

because richard has that wonderful wry

sense of humor that it's a slightly

sideways look at everything his books

are going to be available for signing in

the Waterston's tent afterwards and I'll

remind you of that again when we have

finished question time but for now I'd

like to introduce Professor Richard 40

thank you Jeff it's good to be back here

I've been here a couple of times before

with previous books but this is the

first time I've been invited by the

Royal Society I think Jeff mentioned the

things I spent my life working on in the

Natural History Museum trilobite

and just in case there's anybody here

heaven forfend who doesn't know what a

trilobite is here's a trilobite now the

sad thing about trilobite from my point

of view is that they're extinct they are

no more and it's a little frustrating as

a paleontologist if you work on animals

that are wholly extinct so a few years

ago once I become became better known as

a science writer I conceived the idea of

going around the world looking at what

Darwin Charles Darwin himself might

refer to as living fossils organisms

that have changed relatively little

morphologically I must emphasize that

the way they look through long periods

of geological time and I thought this

would be a rather good way of explaining

the tree of life from a different

perspective not from the point of view

of the fossil record which I'd done

before in a book called life an

unauthorized biography published more

than 10 years ago now but through

animals that still survive and plants so

that's what I did

series of field trips which we then

replicated in sort of abbreviated

fashion for the BBC for TV series also

called survivors well where to start

this is where we start on Delaware Bay

on an evening in May when the horseshoe

crabs come in to spawn why horseshoe


well most scientists not all but most

scientists believe that they are the

closest living relative to the trilobite

so you know this is my chance to go back

and see my animals as near as we can and

I wanted to see this all my life never

had the chance on a light a moonless

night warm nights

may these crabs come out of the ocean in

their Millions

they're not crabs of course at all

they're an allied group to which the

trilobite SAR also related they come to

lay their eggs the females come and dig

the sand up lay that lady large yoki

eggs which for an arthropod which are

then fertilized by the males and again

what's the evidence for their living

fossil miss well there are plenty of

horseshoe crab fossils and their

relatives in the fossil record I'm not

going to show very many fossils but I

have to show a few those of you at the

front anyway we'll be able to see a nice

little horseshoe crab on the right and

tracks going around the sort of big

horseshoe shape this animal died at the

end of its tracks and it was a

contemporary of the dinosaurs and you

have to look very hard to see

differences between this animal and the

one I just saw on Delaware Bay and they

go back further than this they go back

at least the beginning of the group at

more than 400 million years let's just

have an idea about geological time life

on the planet has been here preserved

fossil at least for at least 3.5 billion

years so if we imagine the height of

this room as being the length of the

fossil record of life it's only the

canvas at the top that might represent

the duration of human beings on earth

and a couple of feet down possibly the

first horseshoe crabs here's the mail

climbing aboard the female actually that

first slide was a bit of an orgy because

not content with one male getting on the

back of the poor old female other males

try and get their contribution to the

gene pool by coming in sideways so

sometimes you get a poor old horseshoe

crab female covered with three or four

competing males but they

provide because they're incredibly tough

and that's the story too one of the

things I wanted to find out was some

reasons why certain organisms might


how and why are some things likely to be


well the horseshoe crabs have an

extraordinary ability quite a lot of

these animals became extremely damaged I

was surprised to see battered old Rex

sometimes with holes right the way

through them stumbling along the


you know like I'd compare them to old

Sherman tanks like this sort of thing

still able to carry on laying their eggs

the reason they're so tough is that they

have very special blood it's not red

iron-based blood like ours at all it's

blue blood copper-based and this has an

ability to coagulate in the presence of

gram-negative bacteria very very rapidly

and the result is that where it's

damaged you could even put a hammer

right through the carapace a kind of

wall builds up to seal off the wound and

the animal can stagger on to carry on

about its business and this has proved

extremely useful to human beings as a

test for the presence of such bacteria

and for a while horseshoe crabs were

being milked for their blue blood and

it's still used as very work very widely

as a test and that's another message but

I kept on picking up if I looked at more

organisms you aren't around on this

earth for hundreds of millions of years

without picking up a few biochemical

tricks to protect you from attack many

of these are in a very selfish way of

interest to human beings another

extraordinary thing about the horseshoe

crabs when they finish their night's

work the following day all these birds

come in to undo it waders on a long

migration route from the tip of South

America's the Arctic they arrive

starving they gorge themselves on

horseshoe crab eggs they leave sometimes

doubling their weight almost but

remember these birds in fact this part

of the bird clade you

volved after the extinction of the

dinosaurs when the horseshoe crabs were

already ancient so here we have an

ecology which is absolutely linked in

but separated originally at least by

hundreds of millions of years it also

means of course that the horseshoe crab

ancient though it is is able to cope

with the challenges that the modern

environment and modern competition and

predators and so on can throw at it I'm

just going to mention and I'll mention

it again this of course is an intertidal

habitat what we're looking at now

exposed mud flats at low tide and sand

flats where the horseshoe crabs dragged

themselves in from the sea where they

spend most of their lives it's also good

for the horseshoe crabs that everybody

loves Birds more naturalist love birds

and any other organism as a horseshoe

crab fan I found that puzzling but but

the North American equivalent of the

RSPB has protected the horseshoe crab

numbers and indeed every year they have

a counter census of horseshoe crabs to

make sure that the population is is

keeping up to scratch and if you take

part of in the count late at night and

it's a nice thing to do with one

exception Delaware Bay is the center of

the mosquito population of North America

you will be awarded for your endeavors

with a little pin cute little pewter pin

this one and so if you ever meet

somebody wearing members you'll know

exactly what they've been doing I've

never met anybody yet mine anyway the

horseshoe crab is not threatened it is

in considerable numbers and it was a

great thrill to see it and takes us back

several hundred million years almost as

far as the next animal which I went to

see inside a rotting log in New Zealand

with George Gibbs a local geologist

there who knew exactly where to find it

so if you break open

these rotting logs inside them you'll

find this charming animal

it's a velvet worm otherwise known as an

omni cofrin in fact my book which is

called survivors in the UK every every

time it's just been published in the

States and my American publisher always

changes the title on principle and it's

published as horseshoe crabs and velvet

worms in the States so these are the

velvet worms those of you at the front

and I hope at the back can see its

construction is rather peculiar it's

made out of lots and lots of little

rings along the length of the body

transverse rings like that and even the

antennae at the front and the legs are

composed of similar rings it's just like

you remember the Michelin Man it's like

a kind of fine scale version of the

Michelin Man and it's extremely flexible

you can if you get hold of one not too

hard you you can pull them out like this

and you let go and they go point like a

bit like a an old-fashioned accordion

inside they've got muscles that run

along length of the body most

paleontologists and in the geologists

that I know believes that these

interesting lovely creatures insert on

the Tree of Life below the arthropods

below trilobite s-- and insects and

crabs and lobsters all the things that

Jeff and I like to study so this is just

one evolutionary step may be more than

one below the arthropods on the

evolutionary tree so it's even more

ancient if you like fossils yes yes

that's a fossil those of you at the

front well even at the back I hope

you'll see the little ridges along the

back which are the expression of those

little Michelin tires you'll even notice

little pair of claws there which the

living animals still have what they

don't have is this structure at the

front which is a gill because like

everything else

this group of organisms started under

the sea and in the case of the velvet

worm across moved onto land into its

present habitat and became really quite

a specialized organism today but it's

another survivor and the land moving on

to the land in some way protected it

this is a fossil from the very famous

Cambrian burgess shale which takes us

back to well over 500 million years so

this lineage came through from that time

actually modern studies reveal that they

were more diverse then much more diverse

than these velvet worms than they are

now so what we have is a little remnant

as with the horseshoe crabs that has

somehow come through in a specialized

habitat to the present now when I say

come through I'm particularly referring

to to perhaps more major mass

extinctions where a lot of animals died

out and plants the first and most

traumatic of these was probably the

end-permian one about 250 million years

ago where 90% of Earth's species died so

our survivors the ones I've been talking

so far I've come through that major

trauma the next one everybody knows

about 65 million years ago when a large

bolide or meteorite collided with the

earth exterminated the dinosaurs and a

lot else besides but not these they came

through so those we've got to think of

why or how possibly these animals coped

with these traumas whoops

back mind of its own this thing so to

the next animal I'm now going to the New

Territories in Hong Kong again you'll

see in the background you'll see the sea

and you'll see mud flats or sandy mud

flats so we're in the intertidal zone

once again and Paul shin

Chinese colleague is digging in the mud

there for a very special animal another

one I've always wanted to see alive it's

not terribly spectacular

there it is

it's a brachiopod not a mollusk but a

brachiopod called lingula which means

tongue and you can see why it's about it

would it's a it's rather longer than the

length of your hand that specimen and to

find link euler you have to dig down

into the mud where it lurks not quite in

a burrow but in a vertical position

pulled down by this fleshy store here

you can see there it is

so that lacks as a sort of an come pulls

it down when the tide comes in it moves

up opens its little vowels there two of

them of course and filter feeds takes

out edible particles from the fresh food

brought in every time the tide comes in

this is a habitat rich in food when the

tide goes out it pulls down into the mud

closes valves and so on and so on not a

very exciting life you might say but

certainly a durable one in fact one of

the reviewers of my books said that the

survivors were particularly

stick-in-the-muds I know what he meant

but um but what I want you also to

notice is that there are lots of snails

and other things around here in fact

that mad slap was alive with life and a

lot of that life rather like the

dowager's and waders we've seen after

the Limulus things its evolutionarily

younger in other words lingula can cope

with things that arise on the tree of

life much higher up now linkeyla goes

also like the velvet worm back to the

Cambrian 500 million years plus its

relatives and some of the very early


I was quite familiar with I collected in


you know hammering rocks looked terribly

similar at least superficially and they

are pretty similar well what's going on

it's not a very exciting lifestyle the

crucial thing about it is that the


this habitat a it's intertidal be food

isn't a problem spaces the problem there

were little go bees all shrimps mollusks

everything coping for space on the

mudflat basically if you can get us a

place to launch you'll survive

now that intertidal habitat is also

extraordinarily stable to the extent

that it will always have existed


now the Permian crisis the 250 million

years one through which this animal came

was particularly one of oceanic anoxia

large chunks of the ocean became starved

of oxygen and animals living there

simply couldn't survive the intertidal

zone however must have been immune for

that because the tide was to be coming

in and out storms were stirred up and as

long as the habitats persisted then so

would lingula it's not uncommon it's

found quite widely around the Pacific

region and this I kept on coming back

because I I can't give you all the

examples in the book I'll have to buy

the book for that but as I came back

time and time again I found there was a

habitat component in survival and

particularly intertidal once well we've

now we're just about where the projector

is up on the ceiling in terms of the

whole history of life but of course you

can go back a lot further there are

greater survivors and one thing I'd

always wanted to do and this book

allowed me to do and the tele was to go

and see the greatest survivor of them

all the stromatolites my guarantee

that's the only signpost in the world

where you will see the word

stromatolites on a signpost it's in

Western Australia it takes a long time

to drive up there from Perth and when

you get there there's a little road

taking to hamelin pool and when you go

down the hamelin pool road you go back

into the Precambrian you go back to have

a vision of what life was like not just

five hundred million years ago

billions of years ago well they're sort

of sticky cushions and if you cut it

inside one of these you'll find they're

finely layered a bit like feeling pastry

you can imagine that the skin on top of

those cushions is alive it's a matter of

blue-green algae we used to call them

bacteria we should call them and other

very ancient organisms a community

really that grows immensely slowly in

the special conditions in hamelin pool

and this is a vision of Precambrian life

and the star survivors are to be found

inside these stromatolites or at the on

the skin of the stromatolites

I might say this didn't appear on the

telly program I showed it to the man at

BBC I said this is the theme and the

most exciting thing I saw on he sort of

looked at it for 10 minutes and said

they don't do a lot today so they were

BBC wouldn't fork out to go family and

pool anyway the things in glorious

Technicolor are threads from living

stromatolites blue greens with internal

compartments the brown colored things

are fossils that have been miraculously

preserved for in this case 2 billion

yeah that's 2,000 million years and well

guy who works on these things told me

well you have to call them something

different because of the difference age

but really there's morphologically very

little to choose between them so these

are you know super survivors and they're

more than that of course they are the

most important organisms in the history

of the planet which is why I was hoping

the BBC man would get excited because

they transform the atmosphere from one

that would have been inimical to any

animals to one that we can all breathe

and flourish in in all animals because

the original atmosphere of the earth had

extremely small amounts if any a free

oxygen and of course what those green

threads do is photosynthesize

which involves building their own

material their carbon compounds from

using sunlight and carbon dioxide and

exhaling tiny bubbles of oxygen so this

process carried on from almost the floor

not quite well certainly to you know

three quarters of the way up this tent

nothing much else happening was a slow

oxygenation of the atmosphere in pulses

it wasn't a straight line as I once

thought but it's it went fast first and

then slept flattened and then fast again

transformed the world for us you could

say if you're going to be horribly

egocentric about it but certainly for

higher plants and animals so arguably

these survivors are the most important

of them all other important things

happened during this long period of time

this organism is a fossil again it's

called bang Guillaume or fern it's 1.3

billion years old 1300 million and this

is the first sexually differentiated

organism we know and as everybody knows

sex hots things up allows for greater

variation speeds up the process of

evolution and this ban geomorphic is

extremely like one thread of you have to

think of here of a living red alga

called an Jia this is courtesy of my

colleague Juliet Brody at Museum same

size same differentiation to

reproductive components it's a survivor

but you can go right to the base of the

tree if you want you have to go back to

a time when there was no oxygen and life

light hot water and to do that I had to

for me go to Yellowstone Park where of

course it's famous for its hot springs

and geysers and all these color bands

around the edges of the hot springs are

produced by archaea bacteria archaea

sometimes and related organisms that lie

right at the very base of the tree if

this is the first life we know about

there and there are even disputed

fossils of some of these these are

organisms that flourish in the absence

of oxygen and at high temperatures

a most solidus or most biologists these

days believe that that's the conditions

under which the first organisms

self-replicating organisms on earth came

about so here they are still finding a

niche because they never go away or

never went away

in Yellowstone and as the hot water

spills out of the edge of these pools

you kind of go up the tree a little bit

because bright green color here familiar

of course for photosynthesis include

some of the very first albor organisms

which must also been very low in the

plant tree of life so we gone down I've

started with my trilobite relatives

where I'm most comfortable really and

move right down to the beginning I might

say that these very very primitive

organisms are not the most exciting to

look at

in fact that's about as exciting as they

get alright let's take a big jump now to

things that were contemporaries of the

dinosaurs and have come through the big

katie's it's called Cretaceous tertiary

extinction this is a nautilus and

beautifully carved

and unlike the things I've been talking

about up to now this animal is becoming

more under threat because people love

Nautilus shells as tourist trophies

there it's not uncommon in large chunks

of ocean off eastern Australia and near

New Caledonia

but it's being overexploited for its

shell and this was a contemporary of the


on land and also in the sea I'll just go

back to this the these animals ammonites

which were far more prolific and far

more abundant and far more highly

evolved but they did not survive the KT

the Nautilus did it's an octopus

relative you've got imagine an octopus

kind of stuffed into the edge of the

shell and with very good or very

advanced looking eyes quite

sophisticated eyes like the living

octopus the Nautilus bumbled on through

the KT boundary and I'm not quite sure

why whereas the ammonites it's much more

evolved contemporaries didn't it maybe

to do with the fact that Nautilus

produces relatively few young and lives

to a great age so it's got a long

reproductive cycle and some people think

that the ammonites grew fast and

reproduced only once but that's a bit

speculative I might say that that's just

to show you a fossil Nautilus I this is

the only bargain I had ever heard

anybody get from the by Jing flea market

which is famous for selling fakes of

everything even chairman mao tea trays

are fake there so I went I was taking

round the market by a friend of mine and

passed all the fake Jade and I noticed

one of the Jade stores had the Jade

necklaces all draped over this fossil so

somewhat to the surprise of the owner

I've swept all the jewelry aside and

said how much for the fossil and he gave

me a very good price for it and I'm sure

this isn't a fake that's an otter

a fossil Nautilus about 150 million

years old

and well I hope you can see how similar

it is today to the living animal well is

this the wind making this elegantly bob

up and down gives it a sort of extra

life appearance you have to mention

plants if you want a model for what

plants were like when they came out of

the sea into freshwater and then onto

mud muddy substrates and then onto land

you can't do worse than look at the

liverwort and you don't have to go

anywhere special for live awards this

was taken half a mile from where I live

in henley-on-thames

they're still there in the same sort of

habitat wherever you get a decent bit of

mud people find them I'm sure around

somewhere around these tents here if you

look hard enough they're simple photo

sizing pad synthesizing pads they're

taking the stromatolite if you like onto

land and they're really quite abundant

most scientists that I know think that

they were the first something very like

them was the first thing to come out

onto land there boy thereby transforming

the land just as the stromatolites

before them had transformed the

atmosphere once these things came out

you would have different ways of

preheating down rocks to produce oils

and once you've got soils well the whole

story changes if you want to see the

next stage you can go and look for like

Apollo fights this is one called

Hooper's ear which I photographed in

Norway and had to go to know you can go

to Scotland and see one if you're a pad

photosynthesizing pad creeping over the

mud the next stage to grab the light is

to grow up and spread your canopy out or

leaf or like catching organs that way

and this is about as simple as they get

to do that you need to have supports and

water conducting threads which was a

very important innovation but the

interesting thing is that although these

organisms show a very early stage in

that if you like they have successfully

survived and competed with much younger

organisms ever since these also probably


what did survive both of the great mass

extinctions probably because they live

in a rather marginal habitat which

always survived

that's a fossil one much higher

magnification of a thing with rejoicing

limber iguana Thea that shows many

similar features and that's at least

four hundred million years old so plants

can be survivors too or you can go

higher in the trees to the dinosaur age

and this is one everybody will know

ginkgo but ginkgo survived in just one

small range of mountains in China the

chiyan mushin mountains so one of the

things that I really wanted to do was to

go and see the changshan mountains to

see where ginkgo came through

now it's terribly it's incredibly tough

ginkgo when it's now planted of course

replanted all around the world it was

common all around the world and it's an

interesting question and one I didn't

totally grapple with why it became so

reduced but presumably the k-t

conditions were so awful that just in a

few special places could it survive I

might say that after Hiroshima the one

tree that survived and put out new

shoots was the ginkgo and when I did the

TV we went to the most polluted street

in New York to do the footage of ginkgo

I've got some funny looks from passersby

I might say well that's a fossil just to

show you how similar fossil leaves are

and that's one of these ancient

surviving ginkgo trees than the Tiago

Shan Mountains the Chinese aren't quite

in agreement on why it survived some

people think that we humans gave it a

helping hand and that the monks used to

use its remember China was originally

Buddhist and the Buddha was received

enlightenment under the Bodhi tree which

was a fig Indian fig which doesn't grow

in the tiago shan mountains and they say

are but the nearest thing they had to it

in appearance was the gingko tree so it

was used planted around the monasteries

for meditation purposes

also we are in this country where mostly

those of you know ginkgo will never see

a ginkgo fruit because we only plant the

males and the reason we do that is

because the females produce a yellow

fruit which is extremely smelly it

really does pong and like everything

that's sort of slippery and smelly and

Chinese think it's very good for long

life and and they also play a game with

a with the Westerners like me who try

and pick up gingko fruits in chopsticks

that they extraordinarily slippy so

reach down with your chopstick and try

and grasp the Dinkin gingko fruit and it

goes Bing one direction you have another

going in the other direction before you

finally get one into your mouth they are

also of course they are genuinely full

of alkaloids again it's this thing about

something that's been around for a long

time learning a few chemical tricks and

some of those alkaloids are certainly of

pharmaceutical interest the most famous

recent discovery and this was one of my

failures to see the woolly me pine was

found in a valley in New South Wales and

these were trees that were 200 feet high

how they'd escaped attention of course

is a wondrous thing they were only

discovered I can't remember the exact

year certainly ten years ago I wanted to

go there but there so rigorously

protected that they wouldn't let me but

I didn't matter because I went to the

local garden center and they're on sale

now you you too can have a woolly me

pine they rather like the ginkgo they

spread the proper fuels around the world

again this was known first I might say

from a fossil before it was found living

so real ease of living fossil that was a

game a contemporary of the dinosaurs

another thing I didn't see in the wild

was the coelacanth which for most people

is the living fossil I didn't think I'd

succeed because they were having a sort

of minor revolution in the Chamorro

islands at the time and anyway it leaves

a great depth so I'm afraid I had to go

and see

in a glass case in the Natural History

Museum that's my only cheat there's a

fossil just showed you again how

extraordinarily similar the living

coelacanth is to a cretaceous fossil

again interestingly like the Nautilus

this litt has very lives a very long

time and these very large yoki eggs so

mmm nurtures the young through a

critical phase a lot of marine organisms

go for the quick mass propagule option

which is where you lay trillions of eggs

or certainly hundreds of thousands of

eggs with the idea that one might

survive and they're tiny but both

Nautilus from this guy seem to go for

fewer and indeed the it's true of

horseshoe crabs to compare with many

arthropods they go for fewer eggs for

the Mac Hatcher the more mature size and

they live for a longer time it's a

different strategy all right let's go

down the evolutionary tree a bit in time

at least again I doubt this is not an

exotic place this is to look at the

origin of the vertebrates that animals

with backbones us and fish and to find

my survivor here I went to the river

lamborne which is a beautiful pure chalk

stream that flows down into the river

Kennett in Berkshire Lamborn famous for

its racehorses and here's the

Environment Agency boys doing their

annual census of this chalk stream to

monitor the health of the river and it's

still pretty healthy and by a strange

coincidence I used to live in the same

village Boxford through which they were

doing their survey and here's the

charming little creature that we found

again most paleontologists and

geologists believe that this kind of

fish like animal proceeds what you and I

would normally think of as a fish

it's very different in all kinds of

features of its Anatomy it doesn't have

true jaws to start with and it's gill

openings here are seven discreet holes

in a line and the most primitive fossil

fish like animals had no jaws and didn't

have conventional what we would think of

as conventional gills most lampreys live

by they have a rather unpleasant life

habit of rasping with their no jaws has

they have a strange rasping apparatus in

the front and parasitizing other fish

and so it has to be the case I think

that they hitched a lift as long as

there was another fish around that he

could parasitize he could hitch a lift

through the through the great extinction

crisis again you have a very special in

this case a very specialized habitat

which probably endured to allow the

organism itself to survive but again

physiologist this is extraordinary

important because it's it's a still

living creature that allows us to see

the genesis of animals with backbones

and it's fantastically useful in studies

of development and the expression of

genes and all the stuff that going on

right now so thanks to the survival of

this organism we've got a very very

useful experimental animal most people

know that of the lamprey that King Henry

the first died of a surfeit off them

but history doesn't record how many a

surf it is but it's presumably quite a

lot and and another curious lamprey

effect I discovered is that the city of

Gloucester is supposed to send the the

Queen a lamprey pie as one of the

conditions of their of their freedom

eyes but it's not that far from here

really is it anybody eaten lamprey pie

no no I well I thought it would be quite

nice to eat lampreys so I went I

understood they still edit in

in the Baltic States so when I went to

Lithuania are on a British Council

lecture I found out the Lithuanian for

lamprey which is actually a gay in case

you ever need it and I I spent a rather

curious day wandering around Vilnius

going into restaurants looking hopeful


yay gay gay gay and they kind of looked

at me as if I was barmy and eventually I

found somebody who spoke English and he

said in my grandfather's time we eat in

yay gay but not for 50 years so I never

ate a lamprey are we doing for time so

briefly I also went to New Zealand to

see among other things among as well as

the velvet worm the famous tuatara looks

like a lizard but isn't a lizard it's

lower than the lizard on the Tree of

Life and it survived in New Zealand

probably because New Zealand itself

rifted off from the main body of

Gondwana carrying with it a cargo of

survivors most of those survivors didn't

but this one did I have to say I spend

along to its famous animal in New

Zealand it's you can find it on pubs I

bent many hours looking at it waiting

for do something and it doesn't I mean

just sort of sat there but apparently at

night it will occasionally bicester

itself and eat an insect and then go

back to torpor

but it lives for an enormous li long

time and again we find this combination

of habitat and longevity that seems to

be part of the survivor formula well

I'll pass over that one rather quickly

the crocodile which alone survived among

the larger reptiles from the dinosaur

era but of course we all know that they

can live in two tidally anybody who's

been up to Queensland where I've just

been would know that so we're back

moving into this habitat but came

through the KT and of course they're

also omnivores who can go without food

for a long time which is not a bad thing

to be in that time of crisis

so we're moving up the Tree of Life now

we've arrived at our own ancestors the

mammals the most primitive surviving

mammals are the egg-laying mammals

monotremes and they too are refugees

from God Lana they're found in Australia

most people know the duck-billed

platypus fewer people know well the

echidna it's relative so we went in

search from the Kidner and that's the

best photograph we've got of an echidna

on Kangaroo Island in South Australia

it's a lovely hedgehog like animal but

it's of course nothing to do with a

hedgehog and it's got this funny little

beak at the front news if you prefer

which sticks out rather like a cigar

from the front of the animal and it's

very hard to get a photograph of it

they're not uncommon if you're lucky

they can get to this sort of size and

they trundle along slowly by the side of

the road and if anybody is knows

Australia you'll know they're an awful

lot of very spiny bushes there so you

mostly you get the photograph of an

echidnas bottom all covered in spines

sticking out of a very spiny bush so he

did rather well to get that one but I

went in South Australia to see a kid

milady woman who devoted her Peggy rice

Miller devoted a lot of life to study of

the animals and she pointed out how

remarkable these are as survivors they

don't have proper mammary glands like

that bowels they just have a sort of bit

of skin that oozes milk but what milk

they lay eggs at the bottom of a tunnel

and then they produce little babies now

this is your our moment they produce

little babies called puggles thank you

aren't they sweet and the puggles stay

in the burrows while mum goes off and

search is not for ants as the name spiny

anteater might suggests and that but but

for beetles and grubs and worms and all

kinds of invertebrates and then comes

back and feeds the puddle and the milk

is so rich it's so rich that it's of

interest pharmaceutically a gift in the

treatment of anorexia nothing more

nourishing is known

and eventually there's a rather slowly

brought up they go off and live quite a

long life much longer than the Hedgehog

they superficially resemble so again we

got a long-lived animal absolutely

charming creature I won't say much about

the duck-billed platypus because he's

been much talked about but I never saw

one alive in the wild - I although I

went to look for them several times in

my life until we did do the BBC

programme where they sort of staked it

out right so we've gone through to the

mammals I'm now going to look at and the

last part of the survivor story story

which is as you know we've have come out

of a great climatic crisis the last ice

age just a few thousand years ago and

the ice age produced all kinds of

special species because of the climatic

change it induced so another class of

survivor are things that survived the

Ice Age the Ice Age did several things

one of the things it did was isolate at

certain points oceanic islands where

evolution could proceed and produce

endemics a lot of those own demux have

already gone as just one example of an

endemic that hasn't I went to see in the

mountains of Majorca in permanent water

pools lives a wonderful animal called

the man York and Midwife toad and those

of you know Majorca might be surprised

as any permanent water there at all it's

only where there are scour pools with no

cracks in so the water can't drain out

and there's a nice man called Pina

researching these animals eventually

found something they're known locally as

a Ferrer it which means ironworker

because they have a funny little noise

deep noise which sounded like somebody

tapping a Hannah Danville they're

beautiful and the but these toads are

it's one of the few creatures where they

the adult is actually smaller than the

tadpole head Paul takes about five years

to get to maturity and they're huge and

this little squid alt comes out at the

end of the

day and this survives in a few readouts

in the New York and mountains and a lot

of these things and human beings of

course have accelerated this process

enormously a lot of island organisms are

dying out right now in what is sometimes

called the sixth mass extinction and

it's our fault mostly anyway that's the

fair aret of course a lot of organisms

evolved to cope with the cold and as the

climate warmed up at the end of the Ice

Age they too became vulnerable so many

Ice Age mammals or things that appeared

in the Ice Age and flourished there are

now extinct and many people of course

invoke human interference with that

process - and there's a big ding dong as

we going on as long as I've been a

paleontologist between the climate

change lot and the we humans did it lot

the truth probably is that when climate

change reduced the populations it made

it easier for us humans to push

something all the way but there are some

survivors and here's one of the lucky

ones the bison which I also of course

caught up with in Yellowstone which is

where one of two or three places where

it survived this that the pile there is

bison skulls the appearance of the

automatic rifle allowed for a slaughter

unprecedented in history and very few

survived they could have been pushed to

the end like the American passenger

pigeon but fortunately Yellowstone was

so remote they survived their Bronx Zoo

had some as an exhibit and they survived

there and there was a farmer whose name

I've forgotten who thought they were

rather nice and kept some as pets and

from that they've been bred back thank


a wonderful animal beautifully adapted

to cold conditions another one the ibex

well that went up it can live on the

most remote and craggy areas you could

possibly imagine

ice imagine that was also fairly pushed

fairly close to extinction of course it

does feature on the wonderful artworks

that are

fully human ancestors produced and I

went to see musk ox and various others

that were the lucky ones from this

particular period of history not so

lucky but only by a whisker was the

ancestor of today's cattle the Orrock

which survived in the Polish forests ice

age style forests if you like right up

to the time of Shakespeare Shakespeare

could have written that ode about one if

he'd known but that just didn't make it

so there's the whole question of what we

humans are doing to halt the progress of

some of these remarkable animals now in

the book I coined the term time haydn's

for places where there's a particular

concentration of these early organisms

I've mentioned China already but I

didn't see just the gingko when I went

to China I found that there were Chinese

ranges mountains that were full of

survivors like magnolias which are the

earliest among the earliest of the

flowering plants living alongside

ginkgos so my thesis would be that there

are places like the intertidal and these

mountains which probably have habitats

that allowed the continued existence of

well exact well adapted organisms to

pass through these major geological

crises these organisms have the

survivors have a great deal to tell us

about evolution of course that they all

may also prove useful in the most

practical of ways as yielding

biochemicals of use in fighting cancer

or antibiotics and the like so I would

finish as I hope is proper on a

conservationist note to say let's save

the survivors one or two most people

don't want to save I'm afraid the

cockroach is possibly everybody's least

favorite survivor in fact in all my

researches I was only able to find out

one group of people who liked

cockroaches they were miners in the

silver mines of Bohemia and the reason

they like cockroaches is cockroaches as

everybody knows can live very happily in

small cracks

from which they come out to forage on

almost anything well these miners used

to know about impending Rock Falls when

all the cockroaches fell out of their

cracks and scuttle towards the door

because they've got very sensitive

pressure detectors so the miners alone

like the cockroach but one thing I'm

absolutely certain about is that when

human beings finally finish themselves

off as we will the cockroaches will be

there to clear up the mess thank you

very much

thank you yes we have a few minutes for

questions and can I ask you when you put

your hands up so just wait a second

because we have three roving microphones

and we need just a minute to get the

microphone to you and the first one it's

just over there in another million years

when humans as we know us of God what do

you think will be the survivors that the

the people from some other planet will

be looking at well I'm Shirley I'm sort

will include cockroaches well I mean I

hadn't talked because plenty of other

people will about the six mass


what we're doing is rather different

from some of the other ones in that

we're culling particularly are things

that threaten our livelihood or sit at

the top of the food chain

ie the Predators the major predators as

well as overfishing that the next layer

down in the food chain monstrously at

sea so I don't think some people talk

about learning lessons from the past as

if by looking at the Cretaceous tertiary

or the Permian we can learn something

about what's going to happen in our

reign as it were I don't think that's

very appropriate because we're doing

different things than have happened in

the past the only thing I think might be

relevant is the fact that there's a lot

of evidence of pouring too much stuff

into the sea that may induce one of

these oxygenation crises particularly in

the context of global warming as well or

global increase in temperature in which

case we might see a replay of some of

those terrible effects that the Permian

had where the Seas went bad I mean let's

hope not

you met over here over on your left

right you mentioned about the lampreys

surviving the KT disturbance because of

their ability to rasp the flesh from

fish but they proceeded the fish would

their rust be able to cut through the

carapace of trilobite sand things like

that or what would they have fed on

before fish existed that's that's a very

good question when I should have made

clearer the lampreys belonged to a large

group of core jawless fish of which they

are the sole survivors the early jawless

fish which were contemporaries of

trilobite s-- were probably hadn't had

not developed that sophisticated

lifestyle they mostly grovelled around

in mud sucking up small animals and

other edible particles and the lampreys

themselves that group probably didn't

appear until jawed fishes the more

advanced fish group had come into

existence and they were what we say a

lucky offshoot from the original group

there's a they have a relative that

still they're present in deep oceans

called the hagfish which is probably the

nastiest a slimy aversion of the of the

lamprey which appeared at about the same

time but also very close to the tree of

vertebrate life so and this is something

I should have emphasized at the

beginning nothing ever stays completely

unchanged the genome of some of these

organisms is known to have changed and

continue to change its the morphology

the way they look that stays largely the

same and which is largely a case of if

it ain't broke don't fix it

you know it's a successful design that

can do a successful thing and as long as

their habitat persists then so will they

but the jawless fish have changed and

evolved within that group thank you

there's one right at the front and then

one at firm so one of the oldest plants

and I just was very interested in that

slide with the the upward moving plants

that were moving up to get the oxygen

and I just wondered if that that was a

kind of precursor of the firm yes yeah I

thought I couldn't put every survivor in

or this election last for four hours but

yes ferns are indeed or some ferns at

least are survivors from the same time

all just after those like the pods and

they firmed survive now very well in the

shadow or in the understory of other

plants and again that's a habit one of

the things it's logical really they're a

flat photosynthesizing pad you grow up

into a something can spread leaves out

how are you going to go next you're

going to go up and compete with your

fellows the appearance of wood allowed

for the invention shall we say of trees

which actually have been invented as it

were a number of times that then creates

a habitat underneath which is where

ferns are specialists and ferns of

course are one of the great survivors

after the KT extinction event there's

the so called fern spike in the rocks

the ferns had a field day everything

else had gone away their spores allowed

them to propagate widely and they grew

up out of every crack and once again you

could say that's very briefly the clock

evolutionary clock was turned back to

the Carboniferous and the world was

covered with ferns there's one at the

back and then

it won't the keys to letting these

species be highly adaptive is living in

very unspecialized environments for

instance the coelacanth lives in a deep

sea the he mentioned a lot of species

live in the intertidal zone and these

species surviving in those high Chinese

magic tide back would you say living in

specialized environments is the key to

being a living fossil because generally

those species that they've been very

specialized environments we're very

interconnected relations are very

vulnerable to mass extinctions that's a

very good point of course you can say

what is specialization lingula that

little humble show that lives in the mud

he's doing a very specific thing in a

very specific habitat and the habitat

loss and Saudis are does it but to agree

with the other part of your question

coevolution which has been a tremendous

feature of the last 70 million years as

for example between orchids from the one

hand with a flower that can only be

pollinated by one particular bat or

insect with a tongue long enough on the

other hand those sorts of very very

highly advanced specialised ko

evolutions are vulnerable because it's

one or other of party can finish it off

if you're just filtering out small

particles from seawater

that's a habitat that is not interlinked

with the life habits of some other

organism parasites I guess are enduring

but only so long as the relationship

persists if something goes wrong with it

both the parasite and the host is

probably finished so yes good question

final one over there talking of

coevolution could I please ask you to

comment briefly about the potential

hypothesis for the symbiotic evolution

of mitochondria and chloroplasts via a


and history yeah I didn't I didn't

mention that at all for reasons of time

really I mean yes I think from being a

way out idea when I was a young man

promulgated by very few scientists I

think everybody now agrees that this is

what happened and in the sense the

chloroplast which was once a free living

bacterium is itself a survivor inside a

more complex cell so yeah or and I

believe you know some people think right

everything around for the Golgi bodies

was also once living independently so

yes those are survivors tucked away

inside other cells so the survival I

mean what I wanted to get away from was

that some people have this idea that

life is rather like a conveyor belt that

moves ever onwards and upwards

and they always put it in those terms of

upwards don't they but actually already

by the Cambrian a lot of the life habits

that we think of as typical of today's

oceans had already appeared and life

isn't about as well as invention it's

also about survival even at the cellular

level as you point out thank you good

point okay so I have a few things I'd

like to thank the festival and the Royal

Society for putting on this event I'd

like to thank the technical support

brilliant well done guys and microphone

people I'd particularly like to thank

Richard that was an excellent talk going

from from bottom to top of the

evolutionary tree of life and visiting

all sorts of interesting places and

interesting organisms on that tree of

life to give us a view of what is one of

the really important phenomena the

survival of some of these really ancient

forms of life that gives us a unique

insight into unraveling the history of

life on this planet

so thanks Richard that was I'd like you

all to thank Richard again