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Experiment

Climbing into the redwoods with Experimenter Sam Hargrove

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Christina from the Community team here! One of my all-time favorite books, The Wild Trees, is about the pioneering biologists who first climbed up into redwood canopies in the 1990s and discovered vast floating ecosystems among the branches. As a native Northern Californian, I’ve always been inspired by the massive, towering redwood forests that rise along the coastline. Luckily, Sam Hargrove, an Experiment researcher and student at UC Santa Cruz, climbs redwoods to study the lichens that live up there as epiphytes clinging to the trees. He’s found that a particular species of lichen has different reproductive structures at different heights in the canopy, and let me follow him up into the canopy to learn more about his work one sunny Saturday afternoon.

I highly recommend reading this great piece that Sam wrote over on Hippo Reads about his research, methods, and why studying the canopy ecosystems is so unique and critical, now more than ever. It really is a dynamic three-dimensional space unlike anything on the ground.

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(Sam’s lichen of interest, Flavoparmelia caperata, the common greenshield lichen)

Currently, he’s been relying on natural history observations and taking notes on what he sees up there. Because epiphytes take their nutrients and water from the air, not the host tree, they are direct indicators of environmental changes in strata from height to height, and observational data is limited in what it can tell us.

He’s hoping to purchase sensors to quantitatively track changes at different heights, and has set a new stretch goal to purchase more equipment for assistants and to make climbing easier and safer. As someone who went up there with him, having an extra set of hands (and gear) would really make a difference! His project’s funding period is ending soon - you can find it over here.

Check out more photos from our day in the forest below:

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Strapped into a climbing harness, Sam uses ascenders to climb a single rope that he has passed through the branches above with the help of a crossbow.

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Showing off the tell-tale elastic, stretchy core of Usnea lichen.

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The tree we climbed!