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Forest canopies: A scientific frontier in the treetops

Canopy crane, Oregon, US.

High above the forest floor, the canopy is less understood than many other parts of tropical forest ecosystems – partly for practical reasons, as they are extremely hard to reach. These are complex habitats for many thousands of species living in the vital area between the ground and the sky.

Global Canopy Programme (GCP) was originally founded to support scientific investigation of the tropical forest canopy. We pioneered ways of getting scientists and their instruments into treetops, using balloons, cranes, platforms and other methods.

As the need to preserve tropical forests has become ever more urgent, GCP has changed its focus, working increasingly on the political and business case for safeguarding forests, promoting effective for solutions to deforestation. Nonetheless, forest science still informs our policy work, so we are delighted to see significant advances in this field.

A new scientific article, co-authored by GCP founder Andrew Mitchell and several members of our steering committee, reviews the very latest advances in global canopy science. ‘Forests and Their Canopies: Achievements and Horizons in Canopy Science’, Nakamura et al, is published in Trends in Ecology & Evolution.

New technologies may spur huge advances in canopy science, the article says. In 2002, GCP's Steering Committee called for a global network of 20 canopy access sites by 2020. The article describes how this has already been achieved, with sites including 15 'canopy cranes' around the world. These allow detailed sampling of the forest canopy over an extended period. Better understanding of forest ecosystems is vital for their successful management and conservation, the authors state.

Image: Wind River Canopy Crane. Credit: Oregon State University.