The Lungs of the Forest

photo credit: Brenna Thummler

photo credit: Brenna Thummler

Myakka River State Park is stunning and deserves an entire weekend’s worth of exploring. I’m thankful I got to see even a small part of it prior to leaving Florida after graduation. My favorite part of our trip was definitely the canopy walk and tower; looking down on the park from such a great height, one could see the breathtaking forest kingdom.

I decided to do some reading on forest canopies, and discovered that they began in South America, used for scientists conducting canopy research. I was unaware of how strong of an impact canopies have on forest ecosystems.

The forest canopy is often referred to as “the world’s last biotic frontier” and is “one of the richest yet most poorly studied habitats in the biosphere” (The Forest Canopy Lab, National Geographic). It contains most of the biome’s productive tissue and houses a hefty portion of forest population: about 30 million species.

One of the primary functions is photosynthesis. I see canopies as the “forest’s lungs”, the link between the ecosystem and the atmosphere. Scientists can learn a lot about forest productivity, nutrients, and carbon cycling through the study of canopies, so naturally, these treetop walkways are essential for retrieving information at such heights.

Forest sexual reproduction also takes place in the canopies. Growth of flowers and cones, pollination, fertilization – all are processes that occur in the treetops. Thus, the canopy ecosystems are necessary for controlling tree population and biodiversity.

Forest canopies also play a huge role in light distribution. They absorb and modify sunlight, but also shade the forest floor. Plants and animals in the lower forest levels depend on this shade and temperature moderation to survive.

They are the lungs, rooftops, and gardens of forest life. They have been called “tropical air castles”, “canopy oceans”, “hanging gardens”, “green mansions” and “highways in the trees”. From my experience in the canopy walk, these descriptions are 100% appropriate. They have strong ecological and aesthetic benefits, but unfortunately, not many have the chance to view their magnificence. Once again, this may be a large reason why the ecosystems are in decline. With a lack of vision and understanding, forests are degraded and fragmented, and canopy ecosystems suffer.

Getting out and seeing nature for yourself has a much larger effect than sitting at home reading about it. The trip to Myakka River State Park was a valuable and stress-relieving experience and I hope to return someday for a longer visit!

-Brenna Thummler

photo credit: Brenna Thummler

photo credit: Brenna Thummler

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