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LIFE IN THE TREETOPS by Margaret D. Lowman


Adventures of a Woman in Field Biology

by Margaret D. Lowman

Pub Date: June 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-300-07818-8
Publisher: Yale Univ.

An exuberant celebration of biology in the wild, far from labs, classrooms, and offices. Lowman is a tropical botanist, but, she explains disarmingly, what she really does is climb trees. “I did not intend to climb trees for a career,” she writes. “In fact, I tried desperately to think of alternatives to climbing’such as training a monkey, utilizing large telephoto cameras on pulleys, or working along cliff edges where rain-forest treetops were at eye level before cascading into valleys below.” She had ample reason to become what she calls an “arbornaut,” however: For a tropical biologist, the forest canopy is where the action is, where evolution happens. Such canopies have in fact been characterized as being among the Earth’s final biotic frontiers, places of astonishing biodiversity that shelter countless unknown or incompletely described species. Her work, she admits, has not always been thrilling; one of her early projects involved marking thousands of leaves in a forest canopy in eastern Australia to serve as a sample base for a study of leaf growth dynamics—a project that occupied her for several years. But later projects, as she recounts in her easygoing narrative, have taken her to nearly every jungle in the world, where she has pondered such matters as the long odds of a seedling’s reaching maturity (one percent of a tropical forest’s crop of seedlings makes it to treehood) and where she has helped build tall walkways that have promoted canopy-level ecotourism and saved a few patches of forest from the chainsaw. While acknowledging the dangers of working at high altitude in the tropics, where diseases and sometimes unfriendly animals lurk, Lowman emphasizes the pleasures and intellectual rewards of studying the natural world. Besides, she adds, “learning to exclaim instead of complain has been my most valuable lesson.” Young women interested in careers in science will especially benefit from Lowman’s encouragement, but general readers will enjoy her book as well. (30 illustrations, not seen)