Day in the life: pulling from the canopy

How do you access the top of the trees in a vast expanse of rainforest, where no one has built a canopy tower? We are interested in collecting leaves from high places and low places, in order to assess how variable tree functional diversity really is in this forest.

Our solution: tree pruning poles – long sets of aluminum tubes that interlock, with a cutting head attached by rope at the very tip. Today we spent the morning collecting leaves from species on one of our research plots.

Seven or eight sets of pole extensions weigh a considerable amount, and become very bendy.

Maneuvering the poles in the canopy is a fun adventure – image a thirty-foot long metal rod with a heavy weight attached to its end. Everything is a slow motion dance, but the kind of dance you’re not good at. Concentration is key.

Here is our target: a spindly Drypetes glauca (Euphorbiaceae) high above the palm sub-canopy.

From the ground, it can be impossible to spot the branches and leaves of interest, requiring a second spotter with binoculars to pilot the poles (rotate 45 degrees – lean on that branch – go up by six inches –  – now cut!).

Once we have cut our branches, we bring them back to our ‘lab’ for processing – here we are sorting out different species, and preparing twig samples for rehydration and density measurements.

The final product of this hard work is a bag full of labeled samples – kept in cold storage (our fridge, next to the tortillas) until we can get it to a proper laboratory!

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