The Arbornaut

Arbornaut coverPart of my reason for writing about Tahune Airwalk (previous post) was its connection to a book that came my way recently, The Arbornaut by Meg Lowman (Allen & Unwin, 2021).

Lowman is a field biologist whose unique contribution to botany was to realise that trying to understand the biology of trees by looking only at their trunks was futile and developing ways of getting up into the trees’ crowns to study them – first by using a slingshot to set up climbing ropes, then by coming up with the idea of a high footbridge through the rainforest canopy.

She’s American but did her doctorate here in Australia, so the first canopy walk was built to her design in Lamington National Park in southern Queensland, around 1980. The original concept and primary function was scientific but of course tourists loved the experience and similar treetop walks have become popular eco-tourism ventures. We recently visited MAMU on the Atherton Tablelands but there are many more in Australia besides Tahune; Wikipedia has an excellent guide to them.

The Arbornaut begins as autobiography: her nature-mad childhood, her student years and the difficulties of being the lone female in various university science departments, and her career in museum management and academia. She is now a freelance conservationist and educator. The book therefore becomes a series of project studies half-way through: a canopy bio-blitz, saving Ethiopia’s last patches of forest, training researchers in India, and more.

As a botanist who trained in the 1970s, Lowman’s whole career has been defined by climate change and biodiversity loss. Her emphasis throughout The Arbornaut is on conservation of our remaining forests. It’s a very positive book, nevertheless, because of her boundless enthusiasm for her subject and the energy she has brought to her life’s work. Visit her home page for some illuminating photos and reports on her ongoing projects.

Or read the book.

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