Can’t see the forest through the trees: the power of a canopy in decarbonization

Would you consider forest canopies to be as full of biodiversity as coral reefs? We do!

Photo by L. Shyamal, via Wikimedia Commons

A layer of biodiversity high in the sky

Pop quiz: where do we find almost 50% of land (terrestrial) biodiversity? The forest canopy¹! A forest canopy is the layer of the forest that binds the whole forest together. It is a ceiling of trees and their branches, enmeshed with one another. Often the canopy is the densest layer of the forest.

Origin of a forest’s canopy

Imagine a barren plot of land that has been replanted with trees. Is there a canopy? Not yet! A canopy is formed after many years of healthy growth within a forest. The trees must have grown up and out enough for their branches to touch.

Not all canopies are the same: a replanted coniferous evergreen forest canopy looks different from a primary tropical rainforest canopy. One reason is pretty obvious: coniferous and tropical rainforests have different species of trees. The other is less obvious: replanted forests have less diversity of species than a primary forest (a primary forest is one that has never been cut down or burned). Depending on the age and type of canopy, they can look very different!

The rainforest canopy in Colombia. (Photo by R. Butler)

Unraveling the mysteries

Scientists began making strides in studying canopies around forty years ago¹. This is about when the concept of studying the “whole forest,” became popular. Before that, the secrets of canopies were pretty well kept. Today, researchers use a variety of methods to enter the canopy ranging from constructing walkways between trees, using cranes, drones, or harnesses and ropes. This has revealed a vault of information, especially around biodiversity and carbon absorption.

Researchers in a crane above a Canopy

A belt of biodiversity

Think of forest canopies as the coral reefs of the earth: they contain huge volumes of biodiversity in their ecosystem. You can find sloths, toucans, squirrel monkeys, tree frogs, bats, beetles, parrots living in the canopy, just to name a few. It’s also the buffet of the rainforest: it’s teeming with food. Some of the animals above prey on each other, but even herbivores find their dinner in the flowering plants that reach the canopy layer.

Squirrel monkey living in the canopy.

Canopies also act as a highway for life in the forest. The canopy offers them security to travel and hide from predators. Complete and healthy canopies represent an element of wildlife corridors that help animals migrate to less populated areas in times when competition for space or resources is tense.

CO2 absorption to the max

It turns out that the leaves of the forest canopy are extra good at absorbing carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. Why? Well these leaves are pretty much at the front of the line when it comes to sunlight. Sunlight sparks photosynthesis — this process is how trees create energy, absorbing CO2 and water and turning it into sugar and oxygen².

Rainforests are often touted as extremely effective carbon sinks. Partially because the rainforests are also home to numerous species besides trees that are particularly good at stocking carbon. For example, lianas are woody vines that creep up trees from the forest floor, and then go wild in the canopy, stretching from tree to tree. Their rate of photosynthesis is very fast as they strive to reach the top.

Lianas winding their way up to the top of tropical forest canopies

Can DeFi restore forest canopies?

It won’t happen overnight but…Part of the reason that CarbonABLE projects last so long, is that we follow the project through its major growth years. A forest’s canopy doesn’t really become well-formed until after the first years of the project have passed. But once a canopy has formed, other fauna can settle into the land, building a whole forest, not just a collection of trees. We want to use DeFi to make a huge impact on the restoration of the Earth’s carbon sinks. By restoring forests that become highly efficient carbon sinks, we’re one step closer to changing the real world for good.





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