Arbornautics

Traditional news stories usually cover a single subject or the straightforward relationship between two subjects. However, every once in awhile, a story comes along that crams a deceptive number of subjects and interesting relationships into a tiny space. Exploring stories like that can be an adventure. Here’s a wonderful, five minute clip from Seeker that’s like that.

One of my favorite parts of the clip was the analogy about the rainforest as a system.

In an airplane, there are a lot of redundant screws. Maybe you don’t need every single one to fly the plane, but at some point, if they keep dropping off of the machine, it’s not going to work anymore.

Nicely said. So now, let’s unpack the story.

The most obvious thing to do is find out more about the main character in the story, Dr. Meg Lowman. It turns out that she is widely known as “Canopy Meg,” she also bills herself as an “Arbornaut,” and she’s been involved in some “interesting” research.

Here’s a clip from National Geographic that shows more about how she was involved with some researchers who explored the canopy using hot air balloons and, incredibly, a luge. Yes, a sled, and even more oddly, they also used a raft! It’s hard to imagine — you’ve got to see it!

I couldn’t help but wonder if Canopy Meg’s experiences in the Amazon served as the basis for that 1992 movie with Sean Connery and Lorraine Bracco entitled Medicine Man (IMDb) (Wikipedia). If you’ve never seen it, then here’s a trailer about the scientific side of the plot.

As it turns out, Medicine Man doesn’t appear to be based upon Canopy Meg, but a man named Dr. Henry Ferguson did claim that it was based upon his real life story.
Doctor Sues the Makers of Medicine Man (Terry Pristin, LA Times)

A bit of searching also turned up a site called Medicine Man Productions that is dedicated to Ferguson’s work. Unfortunately, he passed away, but his work is still being carried on by a man named Charles Mazinter who is also CEO of the related company Rainforest Pharmacal.

Trying to understand more about what Ferguson and his colleagues were doing, as well as what Canopy Meg mentioned about pharmaceuticals in the first clip, led to an unexpected detour into Ethnobotany (Wikipedia), Ethnomedicine and Ethnopharmacology (Wikipedia). There’s even a whole Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine. It can be interesting reading if you’ve got an appropriate scientific background.

Along the way, while looking for media about the rainforest, I found this 360° video from Conservation International entitled Under the Canopy.


This shorter, non-360°, “behind the scenes” is even more interesting.

Finally, what about those “cute” little water bears that Canopy Meg mentioned? Well, they may or may not be all that cute, but they sure are tough little buggers.


They’re SO fascinating, I decided to create a whole new page dedicated to water bears.

Maybe water bears aren’t so “cute” afterall, but if you want to see something really cute, then be sure to check out this absolutely adorable little video from David Williams.

Find out more about Canopy Meg (YouTube Channel) (Wikipedia)
Tree Foundation and Arbornautics

Find out more about all kinds of trees, tiny microorganisms and life in general