RALEIGH — Poised between soil and sky, forest canopies represent a critical point of exchange between the atmosphere and the earth, yet until recently, they remained a largely unexplored frontier — the natural world’s upstairs where few had ventured. For a long time, problems with access and the lack of tools and methods suitable for monitoring these complex bioscapes made canopy analysis extremely difficult. Fortunately, canopy research has advanced dramatically in recent decades.
“Methods in Forest Canopy Research,” co-authored by Meg Lowman, director of the Nature Research Center at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, is a comprehensive overview of these developments for explorers of this astonishing environment. In line with the NRC’s mission of showing “How We Know It,” the authors describe methods for reaching the canopy and the best ways to measure how the canopy, atmosphere and forest floor interact. Imagine trying to operate a science lab 70 feet off the ground and secured by a harness. The authors address how to replicate experiments in challenging environments and lay the groundwork for creating standardized measurements in the canopy — essential tools for understanding our changing world.
As for the future of canopy research, Lowman says what is learned at the tops of trees can help save entire forests. The discovery of new plant and animal species, potential new medicines — even the religious value of canopies in some cultures — turn canopy research into a rallying cry for forest conservation. “In forest science in general, we are losing forests more quickly than we are classifying species and discovering new information about how forests work. We urgently need to prioritize conservation first and conceptual science second. There’s even a business and political argument for conservation in how the forests’ vital role in carbon storage has also given them status in political arenas where countries are developing carbon credits and other policies to offset climate change.”
Nicknamed the “real-life Lorax” by National Geographic and “Einstein of the treetops” by The Wall Street Journal, Lowman pioneered the science of canopy ecology. For more than 30 years, she has designed hot-air balloons and walkways for treetop exploration to solve mysteries in the world’s forests, especially insect pests and ecosystem health. Lowman is affectionately called the “mother of canopy research” as one of the first scientists to explore this eighth continent. She relentlessly works to map the canopy for biodiversity and to champion forest conservation around the world. Her international network and passion for science have led her into leadership roles where she seeks best practices to solve environmental challenges.
The 240-page book, which was released in November 2012, is published by University of California Press and co-authored by Timothy D. Schowalter and Jerry F. Franklin. The book can be purchased online or through the Museum stores .