11/14: "What about the canopy?" Before Nalini Nadkarni raised the question, scientists pretty much focused on the ground. Nadkarni has discovered a whole ecosystem 30 to 200 feet up in the air.
The so-called "queen of forest canopy research" has spent decades climbing the trees of Costa Rica, Papua New Guinea, the Amazon, and the Pacific Northwest, exploring the world of animals and plants that live in the canopy and learning how this upper layer of the forest interacts with the world below it. Her work relates directly to three of the most pressing environmental issues of our time: maintenance of biodiversity, stability of world climate, and sustainability of forests.
This pioneering researcher shows host Majora Carter the wonders of Washington state's Olympic rain forest. And the two visit a correctional facility where Nadkarni's innovative Moss Project employs a team of prisoners turned botanists to grow mosses that would otherwise be harvested from fragile natural habitats for use in the horticultural trade.
Creator of the Big Canopy Database to help scientists store and understand the rich trove of data she and others are uncovering, Nadkarni boils it all down to this: "When we come to understand nature, we are touching the most deep and most important parts of ourself."
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