National Geographic: Heroes of the High Frontier


The rainforest canopy

floating a hundred feet above us

has been an unknown world

- until now


A new breed of explorer

is now venturing

onto the green roof of the world

going where no one has gone before.

We join the adventures

of these Heroes of the High Frontier

In the darkest depths of the darkest

forest, the crew assembles.

The pioneering spirit

harnesses modern technology

as a courageous band sets off

on a voyage of discovery.

A flame ignites a quest

to a place of our world,

but, until now, always just above our

reach... the rainforest canopy.

Almost a century ago

explorer William Bebe wrote:

Yet another continent of life remains

to be discovered,

not upon the earth, but one or two

hundred feet above it.

There awaits a rich harvest

for the naturalist who overcomes the

obstacles and mounts

to the summits of the jungle trees.

The rainforest canopy is home

to more living creatures

than anywhere else on the face

of the earth.

Many are born here

and will die here, too,

rarely, if ever, touching the earth.

Their lives, their whole world

has been a mystery.

The canopy is the last

biological frontier on earth.

Biologist Terry Erwin began exploring

this world just 16 years ago.

Since he had no way to reach

the canopy,

he brought it down to earth.

Clouds of insecticide welled up -

and a rain of entirely new and

unknown creatures came down.

So many creatures of so many kinds,

it seemed there were 20 times

as many species

on this planet as we had thought.

The canopy was a hot-bed of


Just what was going on up there?

There was only one way to find out.

A combination sling-shot, fishing pole

is Nalini Nadkarni's own invention

for shooting a line a hundred feet up.


"Oh, my God."

Accuracy is essential.

To get that all important

first line up over a limb,

a climbing rope is hauled up to which

she attaches her Jumar ascenders.

Ever since her first climb,

for 19 years,

"I realized, at that moment,

that first rope climb,

I knew where I was going

for the rest of my life,

I was going up in the canopy."

It takes hard work and courage

to conquer this new world

- but when they climb, Nalini and

the other canopy researchers

are also returning to a very old world.

Our ancestors lived in trees.

Perhaps, we are returning to a place

buried deep in our primal memory.

A place of primal fears.

Braving these dizzying heights

the first canopy researchers

discovered a complex web of life.

"We really felt like pioneers,

we felt like we were frontiersmen,

going to where

no human had ever gone before and,

and everything we picked up

was something new and

something different

- new species, new interactions."

Nalini learned that giant forest trees

actually sprouted roots from their

uppermost branches.

Jay Malcolm found that animals

believed to be extremely rare,

were actually common creatures

if you knew where to look for them.

Meg Lowman investigated

the chemical warfare

between animals and plants,

a source of the canopy's

bewildering diversity.

And Neil Rettig spent months

up a tree,

unveiling the life of one of the

world's most magnificent eagles.

Working in the canopy

has taught them

that this is where the rainforest


...where light is turned into life.

The canopy is a powerhouse

of the forest.

It's where sunlight changes into

stored energy.

It's where trees reproduce, where the

flowers and the fruits are,

where pollination takes place,

where fruit dispersal takes place

so I think it's really where

everything's happening in the forest.

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Submitted on August 05, 2018

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