Life in the Treetops – Exploration and Updates in Canopy Science, from Ethiopia to Penang

California Academy of Sciences

The forest canopy is home to an estimated 50% of terrestrial biodiversity, yet the treetops were not explored or studied scientifically until just 30 years ago. As one of the first scientists to discover the amazing world of forest canopies, I will share the birth of this science and also make a case for the urgent priority to discover, understand, and conserve the species and interactions that exist in forest canopies, especially in Penang with its plethora of endemic species. Forest canopies provide water purification, medicines, energy production via photosynthesis, home to a vast genetic library, pollinators, shade, carbon storage, gas exchange, and many other ecosystem services, to which humans depend for our life on Earth. Methods to explore forest canopies were only developed over the past several decades, beginning with ropes and harnesses, and alter the development of canopy walkways, dirigible and inflatable rafts, and construction cranes. This “toolkit” of diverse field methods now allows those of us who study canopies (termed “arbornauts”) to explore the entire forest and ask relevant questions about spatial and temporal patterns of life in the treetops. Penang has unique and important tropical forest, yet her treetops are relatively unstudied to date. These canopies can provide incredible economic as well as ecological legacies for both visitors and local communities. The future launch of a dedicated canopy research effort in Penang will provide both a local and global contribution to our knowledge of forest ecosystems, and ultimately to planetary health.



Also known as “Canopy Meg”, Prof. Lowman is an internationally renowned American biologist, educator, ecologist, writer, editor and public speaker. One of her many expertise involves canopy ecology and constructing canopy walkways. Nick-named the “real-life Lorax” by National Geographic and “Einstein of the treetops” by the Wall Street Journal, she has great insights and knowledge on Canopy Research and has an international network and passion for science leading her into leadership roles where she seeks the best practice to solve environmental challenges and serves as a role model to women and minorities in science. With more than 125 peer-reviewed scientific publications, published books, journals and an exciting career spanning over 30 years in the field of, she currently serves as Director of Global Initiatives, Lindsay Chair of Botany, & Senior Scientist in Plant Conservation at the California Academy of Sciences. At the Academy, Meg has played a leadership role into integrate the priorities of sustainability and science communication into the existing research programmes of the Institute of Biodiversity Science and Sustainability.