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NATURE: The Serengeti Rules

Tony Sinclair (Greg Kriek) sits in Serengeti's tall grasslands looking through binoculars.
Courtesy of Catherine Watling/Tangled Bank Studios, LLC
Tony Sinclair (Greg Kriek) sits in Serengeti's tall grasslands looking through binoculars.

Sunday, March 19, 2023 at 8 p.m. on KPBS 2 / Watch now with the PBS App

—Founders of modern ecology share scientific rules that offer hope for the fate of our planet—

Exploring some of the most remote and spectacular places on Earth, five pioneering scientists make surprising discoveries that flip our understanding of nature on its head, and offer new hope for restoring our world in NATURE "The Serengeti Rules." This is one of the most important, but untold, science stories of our time—a tale with profound implications for the fate of life on our planet.

NATURE: The Serengeti Rules: Preview

Beginning in the 1960s, a small band of young scientists headed out into the wilderness, driven by an insatiable curiosity about how nature works. Immersed in some of the most remote and spectacular places on Earth — from the majestic Serengeti to the Amazon jungle; from the Arctic Ocean to Pacific tide pools — they discovered a single set of rules that govern all life.

How Starfish Changed Modern Ecology

Now in the twilight of their eminent careers, these five unsung heroes of modern ecology — Bob Paine, Jim Estes, Mary Power, Tony Sinclair, and John Terborgh — share the stories of their adventures, and how their pioneering work flipped our view of nature on its head. 

Gaining Vision Underwater

Across the globe, they discovered that among the millions of species on our planet, some are far more important than others. They called these species “keystones” because they hold communities of plants and animals together, just like a keystone holds a stone arch in place. When keystones are removed, ecosystems unravel and collapse — a phenomenon no one had imagined or understood until their revolutionary discoveries.

How Wildebeest Saved the Serengeti

But with new knowledge also comes new hope, and these same visionaries reveal the remarkable resilience of nature — and how the rules they discovered can be used to restore the natural world, from American lakes to war-ravaged African parks.

Otters & Orcas: An Alaskan Mystery

Based on the book by Sean B. Carroll, "The Serengeti Rules" will forever change the way we see nature!

A young John Terborgh (Johnathan Newport) watches a rare bird in the forest. Allegheny National Forest, Tionesta, Pa.
Courtesy of Nicolas Brown/Tangled Bank Studios, LLC
A young John Terborgh (Johnathan Newport) watches a rare bird in the forest. Allegheny National Forest, Tionesta, Pa.


The film, a New York Times critic’s pick, which they dubbed, “science made spellbinding,” had its world premiere at the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival and won awards at top-film festivals worldwide including Wildscreen’s “Smithsonian Channel Theatrical Award,” “Best Environmental Film” at the 2019 Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival, “Jury Award” at the 2018 Wild & Scenic Film Festival, “Green Fire Award” at the 2018 American Conservation Film Festival, “Family Friendly Documentary” at the 2018 Maui Film Festival, and the “Golden Owl” at the 2018 Bergen International Film Festival.

Scientist Profile - Mary Power


This episode is available for streaming on demand for a limited time. Extend your viewing window with KPBS Passport, a benefit for members at $60 or more yearly, using your computer, smartphone, tablet, Roku, AppleTV, Amazon Fire or Chromecast. Learn how to activate your benefit now.

Scientist Profile - Bob Paine


NATURE is on Facebook, Instagram, @PBSNature on Twitter #NaturePBS

"The Serengeti Rules" is on Facebook and Instagram.

Scientist Profile - Jim Estes


NATURE is a production of THIRTEEN PRODUCTIONS LLC for WNET and PBS. For NATURE, Fred Kaufman is executive producer, Bill Murphy is series producer and Janet Hess is series editor. The broadcast version of "The Serengeti Rules" is a production of HHMI Tangled Bank Studios and Passion Planet Ltd in association with Sandbox Films, Thirteen Productions LLC, and WNET. The feature documentary was directed by Nicolas Brown, produced by David Allen and executive produced by David Guy Elisco, Dennis Liu, John Battsek and Andrew Ruherman. The broadcast edit was directed by Alex West, produced by Gaby Bastyra and executive produced by David Guy Elisco and Jared Lipworth.