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Into the canopy!

We got a dose of adventure and a chance for tree top exploration when a group of volunteer arborists came to the Las Cruces Research Station in early April. Led by Eric Folmer of Treewolf Adventures, the team of climbers got a grant from Yourcause to come to Las Cruces and help us establish a platform for future canopy research. And I don’t mean a figurative platform. I mean a real platform. Two of them in fact. Up in the branches of giant, emergent trees in the forest reserve.

The campaign started with several scouting missions into the forest to find a set of candidate trees. The trees had to be forest giants (since we wanted a view across the canopy) and needed to have good access and branch architecture for securing the platforms. After several exploratory ascents, the climbing team picked a magnificent oak and a towering fig tree, both of which have commanding locations near the top of the Ridge Trail.

From there, it became an engineering task to construct and tailor the platforms to each individual tree. The platforms needed to be strong enough to safely support groups of climbers and researchers but also light enough to be carried over the steep terrain nearly an hour into the forest. After much group planning, debate and trips to the hardware store, Mauricio Barquero from our maintenance crew assembled a set of structures. The garden crew helped the climbing team to haul everything out to the site and then the whole operation moved to the treetops. The platforms were fixed in place with steel cables run across layers of used motorcycle tires placed over branches to protect the tree. The final products are two sturdy platforms of over four square meters in area each perched more than 32 meters (100 ft) off the ground.

As a bonus donation, Jorge from Upventures Guided Tree Exploration came to the station for a couple of days to provide us with breathtaking drone footage of the forest reserve canopy and take some nice shots of our platform adventure.  Because building the platforms was not quite enough excitement for the Treewolf crew, we made a journey into the little explored canopy at our satellite station at Las Alturas, right next La Amistad International Park. The climbers helped us sample epiphytes and, in only a couple of days, provided us with a wealth of new knowledge and species for our herbarium.

The canopy platforms are available for researchers for mounting instruments or conducting observations. For the time being, they are accessible only with a certified guide, by experienced climbers, or by our trained staff. Upcoming plans for research include collection of acoustic data, sampling of cloud water drops for climate modeling studies, and eventually installing a canopy web camera!

A huge thanks to the wonderful crew of volunteers who made this exciting project a reality!

You can enjoy this article and many more from the Las Cruces Research Station Amigos Newsletter. Click here for the latest copy from May 2017.

Pictured: Eric Folmer, Jim Cairnes and Andrew Nash rig the floor section of Platform 1. Not pictured are volunteers Mihael Rotorescu, Walt Fujii, and Kent Sawyer.

Last Updated ( 07/11/17 )
Organization for Tropical Studies
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