In the forest canopy with pioneering ecologist Nalini Nadkarni

The Kid Should See This

“You know, people have been studying forests for centuries, but it’s only been in the last 20, 25, 30 years that people have actually climbed up into the forest canopy to understand the environment up in the treetops.”

Climb those treetops with pioneering ecologist Nalini Nadkarni. One of the first people to do so, she’s studied canopies in Costa Rica and the Pacific Northwest for decades. In fact, this NPR story explains, “She helped shape our understanding of canopy soils — a type of soil that forms on the tree trunks and branches.”

The soil is made up of dead canopy plants and animals that decompose in place. The rich soil supports canopy-dwelling plants, insects and microorganisms that live their entire life cycles in the treetops. If the canopy soil falls to the forest floor, the soil joins the nutrient cycles of the whole forest.

She also discovered that some trees are able to grow above-ground roots from their branches and trunks. Much like below ground roots, the aerial roots can transport water and nutrients into the tree.

NPR’s Maddie Sofia talks with her about TreeTop Barbie and The Last Biotic Frontier while hanging high among the tree branches in this episode of Maddie About Science.

Nalini Nadkarni
forest canopy

Related listening on NPR’s ShortWave Science Podcast: Tree Scientist Inspires Next Generation … Through Barbie.

Next, watch

Each Tree Is Its Own Adventure: Climbing giant sequoias for science


The Wood Wide Web: How trees secretly talk to and share with each other


Why 10 Daily Tons of Ant Poop Keep This Rainforest Thriving

, and

Soil 101


Bonus: Outfitting Tree Kangaroos with tiny video cameras.

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Rion Nakaya