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Top-level study of rainforests' secrets
British-based scientists are aiming to occupy the high ground ofbiology. Five giant cranes - each carrying an observation post and scientific laboratory - will tower over the treetops of rainforests in Brazil, Ghana, Madagascar, India and Malaysia in a $17m (£9m)attempt to explore one of life's most mysterious frontiers, the canopy. The forest treetops are where the sun, rain and living things first meet. An estimated 40% of all terrestrial species are to befound more than 70 feet up, where the first wispy leaves and twigs compete for solar energy.
Almost 90% of the earth's biomass - the sheer weight of life - is in the forests. But the canopy isan almost entirely unexplored zone. "Some people say we know the surface of the moon better than we know the tops of the trees," said Andrew Mitchell, of the Global Canopy Programme, centred atOxford. "We find that about 80% of the insects we recover from the canopy are undescribed, new to science. There is an astonishing variety of life up there. So from the life-on-Earth point of view, it'sreally important to find out. It is totally undiscovered territory."
Ten cranes are already in use, mostly in temperate forests. But the greatest richness of life is concentrated in the tropicalforests. The programme has just received backing from the United Nations environment chiefs and five governments. Forests are powerful players in the carbon cycle, and have a huge role in the globalwarming theatre. If all goes to plan, the first five cranes will tower over the rainforests, swinging a research platform and instruments over the treetops, observing the foliage, flowers, birds,insects, epiphytes, parasites, reptiles and mammals in life's upper storeys, ideally without snapping a branch or disturbing a nest.
Estudio de nivel superior acerca de los secretos de los bosques...
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