Immersed in the clouds: Interview with tropical cloud forest researcher

There is a world within the canopy of a tropical cloud forest that not many people get to see. In this unique ecosystem—maintained by the exceptionally wet microclimate of cloud cover—orchids, moss, lichens and other epiphytes grow in every crease and pocket of the supporting tree branches. Here, hundreds of species of birds, along with monkeys and other mammals navigate the aerial landscape, scattering seeds along the way (see below video).

(Resplendent Quetzal Canopy in the Clouds from Colin Witherill on Vimeo.)

Greg Goldsmith, tropical plant ecologist from the University of California, Berkeley, spends his days harnessed in this “canopy in the clouds”—also the name of the interactive, educational website he is currently working on with photographer Drew Fulton and cinematographer Colin Witherill. The website, which explores the topical montane cloud forest in Monteverde, Costa Rica, will be launching a Spanish version called “Dosel en las Nubes” in the next couple of weeks.

Goldsmith, who is the host in the Canopy in the Clouds videos, explains the microclimates, landscape, plants, pollinators, insects and the many other fascinating aspects of the forest.

“I am still absolutely blown away by the sheer quantity of green that you see when you first walk into one of these forests,” said Goldsmith in a recent Ecological Society of America Field Talk podcast. “I am still amazed and still totally enthralled by the idea of seeing something I have never seen before, every single day. And that is a function of the incredible biodiversity that exists in this part of the world.”

Thanks to the many hours of work from the crew, Canopy in the Clouds has numerous panoramic photographs embedded with short videos that describe a specific process or aspect of the forest. According to Drew Fulton’s photography website, “This group spent over 200 days in the field, bringing together [their] passions in pursuit of a new generation of science education media…” It was the first time Fulton and Witherill worked in the tropics.

With the website completed, Goldsmith can guide visitors to experience a unique perspective within and above the canopy at the highest elevation—an area that is largely inaccessible without careful training. So, instead of telling a student that “the canopy is almost always immersed in this beautiful layer of clouds,” as Goldsmith said in the podcast, he is able to show them firsthand.

Photo Credit: All photos copyright of Drew Fulton