Life in the Canopy

Since its designation in the 1950’s the diverse habitats and wildlife of East Dartmoor NNR have been studied by scientists with an interest in ecology.  But to study life in the canopy, takes both a strong head for heights and some highly specialised equipment. However a team at Plymouth University have become highly skilled at working in this challenging environment. Each year Biological and Environmental Science students from Plymouth University, visit the tropical forests of Borneo, to study the high canopy of these biodiverse forests.  So last summer, when Plymouth proposed bringing this expertise to study the canopy of Yarner Wood, this was an exciting prospect and a chance to find out more about this little studied part of the reserve.

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The canopy climbing team – Gemma, Jane, India, Rachael, Marty, Steve and Kiki

This summer, on the last weekend of June, a rare opportunity arose to connect the canopy research work in Borneo with the oak woods of the East Dartmoor NNR.  A small team of scientists, from CREST and Plymouth University, were granted special permission to take part in the Big Canopy Campout.  For one night the world’s canopy and climbing community were uniting, to sleep high in the trees to raise money to purchase critically threatened rainforest in Borneo (through the World Land Trust). This area of rainforest, along the Kinabatangan River, is exceptionally important for wildlife including iconic species such as Orang Utans.

On the 24th June, a small team from Plymouth rigged up ropes and hammocks in a tall oak tree, for a night under the stars (or clouds!) in Yarner Wood…

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All the fundraising effort was worthwhile – the Borneo campaign overall raised £300,000 of funds which will enable the World Land Trust to buy and protect five vital areas of Bornean Rainforest, from being converted to Palm Oil plantations.

Closer to home, on 11th July the students from Plymouth University will be starting their canopy ecology studies, within the permanent monitoring plots at Yarner Wood.  The aim of these canopy studies, is to investigate the impact that plot management has, on the diversity and abundance of canopy invertebrates and canopy epiphytes – such as lichens and mosses.  This is their second year of study – you can read Canopy Science, a blog written about their fieldwork last year.

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The student team are using dormouse nest tubes to assess if dormice are using the high canopy Photo credit: BjoernSchulz_Wikipedia Commons

This year, the student research team will be evaluating if the rare and vulnerable dormouse uses the high canopy as a habitat. The team plan to do this by recording the presence/absence of dormice in dormouse nest tubes that were placed in the high canopy during March and April this year. In the long term it is envisaged that the findings from these canopy studies will help inform woodland managers on habitat requirements for canopy biodiversity within the reserve. If you are visiting Yarner Wood during July… look out for these intrepid tree climbers.

With thanks to Stephen Burchett – Biological Sciences at Plymouth University/CREST 


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