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Biology Under Cover Abstract

Selected Journal & Book Covers from SBS Faculty

“Canopy Roots: Convergent evolution in rainforest nutrient cycles”

Nalini M. Nadkarni


This study, carried out while I was a graduate student at the University of Washington, shed light on what was then the “black box” of the little-studied world of tropical and temperate rainforest canopies. Many trees support diverse and abundant communities of plants and accompanying soils that live on trees. I discovered that some trees send out “adventitious” roots from their own branches and trunks that permeate the mats of canopy soils. These are functional roots, anatomically similar to their below ground roots. This discovery of a “short-cut” in nutrient cycling helped scientists understand that complex interactions occur in the forest canopy that affect the whole forest.


Accumulations of living and dead epiphytes in the canopy of rainforest trees provide an aboveground nutrient resource. A wide range of host tree species in both temperate and tropical rainforests gain access to these nutrients by putting forth extensive networks of adventitious roots beneath the epiphyte mats they support.