Technological innovations are often the precursors of emerging areas of science. The development of equipment and methods for safe and non-destructive access to the forest canopy was the vehicle by which the diverse and important world of tree crowns came to be explored by humans. Although people have been curious about canopy-dwelling biota for centuries, they were largely restricted to the forest floor – gathering fallen canopy plants and animals, making observations through binoculars, or awaiting treefalls or large-scale forest felling to enhance canopy knowledge and collections.
Canopy biologists must often dangle for hours to find out such basic data as where ants horde epiphyte seeds; chart the pathways of lianas to sunny spots; trace the passage of nitrogen from tissue to tissue; and, watch for weeks in aerial blinds to observe the feeding preferences of birds.
There is growing concern about how humans who visit the canopy – researchers, recreationists, and activists – might affect canopy-dwelling biota. For example, little is known about short-and long-term effects that human footprints and rope-marks have on epiphyte mortality and recolonization, or the effects of the sound and sight a large tower crane might have on wildlife behavior or nesting. Such information is being accumulated and will be synthesized and used to determine best practices in the future.