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Unveiling, for the first time, the terrestial biodiversity of the tropical rainforest canopy in North Queensland Australia.
Mondays 24 April & 1 May 2006 9.00-9.30pm

Less is known about the forest canopy than the depths of the poles, yet the forest canopies are thought to house 40% of all terrestrial biodiversity and are the main interfaces between life and the atmosphere. Up until recently the canopy has been relatively inaccessible but now, with the help of giant cranes with low environmental impact, the canopy’s secrets are being unveiled. The Last Great Wilderness builds up the first accurate picture of this “the most important biotic regulator on earth”. Flora, fauna and the relationship with the atmosphere are all under scrutiny. Many species, systems, and relationships of the canopy are still mysterious and much is still to be discovered.

The Daintree rainforest canopy crane
The Daintree rainforest canopy crane

Programme 1

Andrew Luck-Baker ascends with the help of a newly constructed canopy crane to scale the heights of the world’s oldest tropical rainforest in North Queensland, Australia and discovers the limitless opportunities that exist for the animals living in the various layers of the canopy.

Tall trees dominate the canopy and their interwoven branches host canopy-dwelling plants (epiphytes) of all kinds.

Flowers bloom year-round in these aerial gardens, and attract bats as well as birds to their sweet nectar and energy-rich pollen.

Over 500 species of insects unique to this environment, and acting as the “glue of the canopy”, have already been discovered. 

Animals from tree kangaroos to the prehensile-tailed rat have evolved specialised features to enable rapid passage around the tree tops.

But how stable is this extraordinary ecosystem? Andrew Luck-Baker meets the ecologists and environmental biologists as they grapple with the discoveries and seek to gain answers to these pressing questions

Listen again Listen again to Programme 1
Entomolgist Nigel Stork of James Cook University (facing) and Andrew Luck-Baker prepare to ascend to the treetops.
Entomolgist Nigel Stork of James Cook University (facing) and Andrew Luck-Baker prepare to ascend to the treetops.

Programme 2

Forest canopies have been described as "the lungs of the earth", taking up carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen as part of the process of photosynthesis to maintain growth. 

But what effect will any predicted climate change have on the inter-relationships that exist between the atmosphere and life 50 metres above the forest floor?

Andrew Luck-Baker meets climatologists who are conducting a major new experiment up in the canopy to predict how forests might behave in the future.

Christian Korner of Basel University in Switzerland, for instance, has a unique canopy experiment.

He's flooding a forest canopy with carbon dioxide - mimicking greenhouse gas levels in the year 2050 - and examining tree growth to see if trees might be capable of taking up extra carbon dioxide as has been suggested by theorists.

And how effective will forests be at absorbing carbon dioxide if rainfall and temperature levels alter in the future?

Climatologists in Australia's Daintree rainforest canopy are working on the answers to assess how trees will contribute to global climate change.

Listen again Listen again to Programme 2
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