The hooked beak of the Western brown hawk (Hieracidea berigora) here is part of a teaching set illustrating how different bird species have evolved beaks specifically suited to their habitat and behaviour.
The picture of natural history revealed by the fossil record, and explained in theories of evolution and plate tectonics, is one of disappearance and emergence. Mountains rise as continental plates meet, only to be eroded by the elements; species become extinct and vanish.

Major environmental changes in the past have led to mass extinctions, the most famous surely that of the dinosaurs. The human impacts of global exploration from the 15th century onwards also led to more rapid, localised extinctions, symbolised by the Dodo of Mauritius.

Geologists have rediscovered lost worlds by modelling environments and reconstructing the flora and fauna that lived hundreds of millions of years ago. Scientists are also finding new kinds of life, and new ecosystems too, as the black smoker display below shows.

In the 21st century, our understanding of ecologies and extinction is perhaps greater than ever before. The need to manage our own environmental impact is apparent if we do not want to be responsible for the further disappearance of life.

A crab (Petrolisthes desmarestii) collected by Charles Darwin