A    V i e w    F r o m    T h e    T o p

Stand at the base of a rainforest tree and look up towards the treetops. What you’re seeing are different niches, each with their own micro-climates and populations. Down on the bottom, near the forest floor is the understory—home to myriad insects, animals and other organisms that have adapted to life in moisture and darkness. Here plants fight for light. Just 100-200 meters up at the level of most of the treetops is the forest canopy—sunlit and green, with a profusion of flowers and plants and the creatures they attract. And this is the world where Marcela Santamaria, wants to spend many of her working hours.

Marcela is a Colombian researcher, born in Bogota, who is in Brazil to study the fruit-eaters of the rainforest canopy. “In Colombia, where I live, there is also the Amazon rainforest. That’s how I became interested in studying the ecology and the conservation of this environment. But Brazil,” she says smiling, “Brazil has much more rainforest. So I am here.”

Marcela’s initial research, back in Colombia, was on the behavior of animals in the understory. Her subjects then were the curassows, which are like large black chickens with about as much capacity for flight. As she worked in the forest with these essentially land-locked birds, she met other researchers who were studying the biology of the canopy. She was fascinated by the work they were doing and the diversity that can be found in the canopy. She returned to school and redirected her studies upwards. And the classes that she took including climbing trees. “To work in the canopy, researchers have to climb the trees.” She shrugs. “How else would you do it?”

After finishing her studies in Colombia, Marcela was determined to do research in Brazil. There are grants given by the Brazilian government specifically for Colombian students. The competition, however, is fierce, for the six or seven openings each year; among other requirements, the candidates must pass an exam showing proficiency in Portuguese!

Marcela’s Interview A View From The Top    1     2     3     4