- Photo via Utah State University -
Published on Tuesday, August 22, 2023
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services
Ecologists from Utah State University examined the distribution patterns of canopy soils and their soil properties, across Costa Rican forests.
The researchers suggest canopy soil may store more carbon than previously thought. Consideration of the time needed for reforestation of the system with tree canopies should include the time needed for canopy mat regrowth.
When we think of soil, most of us think of dirt on the ground. But a surprising amount of the planet's soil thrives in the treetops of old-growth forests, high above "terra firma."
This organic matter, composed of decaying leaves and branches, airborne particulates and moisture, is called canopy soil or arboreal soil. Its study is relatively new, says Utah State University ecologist Jessica Murray.
She's among researchers unraveling mysteries of the dense, mossy humus that provides rich habitat for insects, birds, fungi, worms and plants, as well as a generous reservoir for carbon storage.
Murray and colleagues from Texas A&M University, the University of Toronto Scarborough and Imperial College London research was supported by USU, the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture, and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.
"In this study, we sought to understand where canopy soils are found, where they are most abundant, and if their properties and thus, soil development processes, differ as a function of climate or other small-scale factors," says Murray, a doctoral student in USU's Department of Biology and Ecology Center. "This is the first study to look at the distribution patterns of canopy soils across forests and one of very few studies that have sought to examine canopy soil properties."
Murray collected much of the data for the study some 80 feet above the ground at six primary forest sites across Costa Rica's Cordillera de Tilarán and Cordillera Volcánica Central, encompassing both Caribbean and Pacific slope mountain ranges. Her field gear includes climbing gear, ropes, a safety harness and helmet.
"I climbed about 30 trees to collect data," she says. "And getting to one of those sites was the hardest hike of my life."
Murray is referring to a site designated "Puesto 1070," located along a contiguous tract of primary forest, which required a steep trek from about 1,970 feet in elevation to 3,608 in thick mud.
"It took eight hours to complete the hike just to the study site," she says. "We were carrying all of our climbing gear, food for eight days, sleeping bags and sampling equipment. Thank heavens we finished that site early, because, with our hard-earned appetites, we also nearly finished our food supply ahead of schedule."
tree canopies in the tropical montane
forest systems are especially dense, with
thick moss, soil and an abundance of
epiphytes plants that grow on other
plants, often referred to as "air plants",
that are not parasitic and have little or
no attachment to other obvious nutrient
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