Zen and the art of tree climbing

 By Holli Kilburn, Researcher, Canopy 

It is estimated that more than 70% of life in the rainforest can be found in the trees, not an unreasonable statement when you think that the forest is mostly made up of trees, right? So by bringing canopy access into our scientific tool-kit we can surely only tap into more of what the forest has to offer and be able to record more of the species that are found here. With canopy research our scope of exploration goes from 2D into 3D. The only problem is that it is very time consuming and very hard work. Canopy access is not a new skill but it is an underused scientific tool and probably for good reason.

Climbing up rope over a void of often over 150 feet is not everyone’s idea of fun but it is mine. The thing is that to even to get to this point, more often than not you have spent some hours trying to get your rope into the tree. This is achieved by firing a small, heavy weight-bag attached to special string over a distant branch using a giant 12 foot catapult. Every kids dream. The problem with that is that the string desperately wants to be in a fearsome tangle and is quite cunning at achieving this aim and the branch that you are aiming for is sometimes so covered in foliage that even when you get the weight over it refuses to come back down!!!! And breathe.

Still, despite everything, we are managing to get up trees, conduct research and have a lot of fun doing so. We have been diligently mapping and photographing the varied and abundant epiphyte species that we find in the canopy. Epiphytes are the plants that colonise trees, taking advantage of the elevated position in the canopy to access sunlight. We have also been carefully combing through these tree-top gardens looking for hidden frogs and have so far recorded two frog species that we have not found at ground level. Camera traps and humane mammal traps have been placed in the canopy with varying results and nocturnal surveys have revealed species of gliding gecko and flying squirrels.

The thing about conducting research into little known habitats is that it has such huge potential. It would be amazing to find a new species of frog in a niche habitat high in the canopy. It would also be awesome just to keep adding species to our ‘found list’ that we’re not finding on the ground. Hey, it’s just fantastic to be spending time at 160 feet in emergent canopy trees catching a breeze and eating peanut-butter and jam sandwiches.