This blog post is reproduced here, with permission, from the Spring-Summer 2012 Newsletter of the International Canopy Network. Given the length of the article, I have split the newsletter into three separate blog posts – this is Part 1.
Canopy research in most parts of eastern Canada is in its infancy, which is somewhat surprising because I think many Canadians feel a significant connection to forests and to trees – you might even argue it’s part of our culture, along with ice hockey and maple syrup. I have spent a lot of time doing research on arthropods in forests, but only relatively recently began to shift my focus upwards to the canopy. The reason is quite straightforward: when studying the biodiversity of insects and spiders in forests, you just can’t ignore the canopy!
As I moved (up) into canopy research, I had originally planned on doing some process-oriented, experimental food-web research in the tree crowns. I was optimistic that I could go to the literature to find some base-line inventories and those studies would provide a starting point for my research. I quickly realized, however, that literature on arthropod diversity in “northern” canopies was virtually non-existent (with the notable exceptions being the excellent research done in the temperate rainforest system of western Canada, e.g., Lindo & Winchester 2007, 2008 and related publications). It therefore became clear that the first years of this new research direction would be focused on descriptive biodiversity research. This is not a bad thing as it allows for the kind of work entomologists and arachnologists love to do: trap some bugs, identify them, complete a faunal list, and investigate diversity patterns.
Our laboratory has used two main methods of canopy access over the past six years: a mobile aerial lift platform, and single rope technique. The mobile lift was acquired by a grant from the Canadian Foundation for Innovation. It provides a safe way to get people into the canopy (its maximum height is about 26 m – which in our system, takes us to the upper canopy). Its main limitation is that the lift platform has to be driven into a field site, meaning there must be a 2 m wide trail for access. This means that selection of field sites, and individual trees, can be somewhat biased and limiting. You could also argue that all our trees are on soft forest edges. For that reason, we have more recently starting accessing canopies using the well-known single-rope technique. It has the benefit of getting you to any tree you like, but can be limiting if the researcher needs to complete complicated tasks at the ends of branches. However, we are finding the single-rope technique a valuable method for getting our work done in Quebec forests.
Stay tuned for Part 2, which will be about spatial patterns of diversity.
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I was comforted to know that the bites that I soetmimes wake up with (not flea or mosquito) aren’t due to the 8-leggers that often find their way on to the corners of my bedroom ceiling. I find it a little odd that I seem to wake up with these bites (not bed bugs, bites are bigger than mosquito-huge swelling) at the same time every year as the spider bloom that happens in late summer/fall. But ok. Spiders don’t bite. And then I remember 10 years ago when I lived in the redwood forest of Mendocino CA., when I got up in the middle of the night to use our composting toilet (the lid of which is always supposed to stay closed) and after I was done delivering my deposit, felt what can only be described as a bite on my ass. I screamed and jumped off (compost toilets are things you have to climb on to) and woke every one up. Someone came in with a flashlight (when you live off the grid in the middle if the forest and get woken up in the middle of the night, it’s often the first thing you grab) and they flashed it into the toilet after seeing the huge red mark on my cheek, and lo and behold there was a Spider in the toilet. Being people that believe in spider bites, none of us thought to look for another culprit besides the huge hairy arachnid looking disturbed on my shit. There weren’t any camera phones back then to make it easy to just take a pic, but I remember studying it before someone gathered it up and released it outside. It wasn’t sleek, it had hair. It had about a 2 inch leg span (sorry, the American measurement system is retarded) and it’s body was about an inch long. It was brown with some yellow or tan markings on its back that were quite pretty. I think if I were to see a picture now, even a decade later, I would recognize it. I surfed the web later to see if I could find out what it was, but it wasn’t the next day, because when I woke up the next day, I discovered that I couldn’t use my legs. I could feel them and everything, they were just jelly. And then the dizziness and nausea set in and I was put back to bed while the bite was examined for dead tissue or blackened skin (which is what we were told was the reaction of a brown recluse bite). Of course we all knew that brown recluses didn’t live up in our area, plus we had seen the little guy. I woke up like 8 hours later and I was completely normal. I have never had an experience like that before and haven’t since. I am not afraid of spiders. I think they’re cool. I’m a beekeeper and am very comfortable around insects in general and am familiar with what stings feel like. This was nothing like that. So I appreciate this post about how spiders don’t bite. I like the idea of quelling people’s stupid fears. But I also, must respectably disagree with your assertation, as my ass can attest too!