Catherine Cardelús Climbs into the Canopy, Uncovers Insights about Epiphytes

The summer after Catherine Cardelús graduated from Barnard College in 1996, she found herself about 30 meters above the forest floor exploring the rainforest canopy for the first time at La Selva.

“It was magnificent,” she said. “When you’re just peaking your eyes over the branch, you’re looking under all of these plants, and there’s so much life there.”

Cardelús hasn’t stopped climbing. She received a prestigious NSF Graduate Research Fellowship and her doctorate from the University of Connecticut. Now, as a Professor of Biology & Environmental Studies at Colgate University, one of Cardelús’ main research interests is to better understand how epiphytes (commonly described as plants that live on other plants) in the rainforest canopy function under changing conditions.

Since her first trip to La Selva in 1996, Cardelús has returned most every year to the research station to collect data in the canopy or to teach her tropical ecology course, mentoring a cadre of students in tropical ecology along the way.“I spent two months there (La Selva) after college, and that was it,” she said. “I was hooked and never going to leave again.”

Field Notes from South Africa