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Instructional Resources

Series Info

Episodes: 16

Length: 15-25 min.

Grade Levels:
9, 10, 11, 12


Web Resources and Guide
Web Resources and Guide


Branches on the Tree of Life

This series identifies behaviors and relationships in the microscopic world, taking a modern view of classification and phylogeny. New microscopy, animation and photography techniques reveal structure, process and behavior in living things.

All programs include a Teaching Guide. The most recent programs also contain an Image Bank of dynamic still photographs for use in lecture, discussion, and review.

Episode Guide

1. The Light Microscope: Window on the Microcosm — Correct lighting procedures and techniques required for viewing living cells with a student microscope are emphasized. (17:14 minutes)

2. Sponges — In spite of their simple nature, sponges have interesting developmental, ecological and evolutionary characteristics.Animations and time-lapse microscopy clarify sponges’ structure, function, classification, and ecological roles. (14:50 minutes)

3. Arthropods — Phylum characteristics and adaptations, life cycles and evolutionary relationships of three major arthropod classes: Crustaceans, Chelicerates, and Uniramians are covered. (25:16 minutes)

4. Plants — This video introduces mosses, liverworts, ferns, horsetails and the seed plants (gymnosperms and flowering plants) and their life cycles. Animation describes the molecular level mechanisms of photosynthesis. (14:01 minutes)

5. Algae — The term algae is a catchall for several evolutionary lines of photosynthetic organisms: dinoflagellates: Red algae, diatoms, yellow-brown algae and brown algae, and green algae. This program explores the diversity, structure, ecological roles and modern classification of these vital primary producers. (19:22 minutes)

6. Fungi — The structure, life cycles, ecology, classification and evolutionary relationships of four major lines of fungi: Chytrids, Zygomycetes (various molds), Ascomycetes and Basidiomycetes. (21:20 minutes)

7. Viruses — The discovery of viruses and their structure, how viruses are studied, how they infect their hosts and how they replicate are studied. Details are provided on the T-4 bacteriophage and retroviruses such as HIV. (17:43 minutes)

8. Bacteria — The structure, physiology, behavior, and vital roles bacteria play in the biosphere, including oxygen production, decomposition, nitrogen fixation, and as parasites as well as helpful symbionts are shown. (16:54 minutes)

9. Cnidarians — Studied are a. the habitat, structure, feeding, nematocyst discharge, locomotion, and reproductive strategies of hydra, b. the 2-stage life cycle of Obelia, and c. the biology of jellyfish, sea anemones, and corals. (12:25 minutes)

10. Flatworms — This program shows the structure, behavior, and life cycles of planarians and their free-living relatives. The bizarre life cycles of flukes and tapeworms with animations and images are shown. (14:38 minutes)

11. Rotifers and Nematodes — Many species of rotifers are shown. Planktonic rotifers have adaptations for open water life. Nematodes include important human parasites seldom seen, but easily found on tree moss, leaf litter, and compost piles. (15:15 minutes)

12. Annelids — Explored are the 3 classes: Class Polychaeta (feeding, locomotion and larval stages), Class Oligochaeta (lifestyles, feeding adaptations, and anatomy of freshwater oligochaetes and earth worms), and Class Hirudinea (leeches, crayfish and worms show adaptations for commensal, parasitic and scavenger lifestyles). Annelids are close to molluscs on the tree of life. (14:55 minutes)

13. Molluscs — Examined are the basic characteristics of the phylum and, in-depth, the four most familiar classes of mollusks, viewing structure, life history, adaptations and ecological interactions. The heritage of the phylum is shown by 510 million year old fossils from the Burgess Shales in Western Canada unfolding into the modern view of Molluscan evolutionary relationships. (14:49 minutes)

14. The Protists — New molecular analyses show that the protistan lines of evolution go so far back in time that they can be considered as different kingdoms of life. Amoebas, flagellates, algae and ciliated protists are shown. (19:59 minutes)

15. Echinoderms — Phylum characteristics and key biological details for five classes of echinoderms are covered: 1. sea stars; 2. brittle stars and basket stars; 3. sea urchins and sand dollars; 4. sea cucumbers and 5. crinoids (feather stars)vertebrate evolution are identified. (14:56 minutes)

16. Chordates — How Phylum Chordata (tunicates, sea lancelets, hagfish and all familiar vertebrate animals) animals evolved and how the group is unified by four characteristic structures are shown. Milestones in vertebrate evolution are identified. (18:08 minutes)

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