Ecuador: A high canopy wetland of great diversity

My palms were sweaty and my hands shaking when I got my first chance
to climb a tree, a monstrous ceiba 140 feet tall, in search of
zabrina. McCracken had coached me on operating the tackle, and I had
practiced a bit on the ground; but translating that to a full 14-story
climb up the rope dangling in front of me was nerve-wracking. I was
clipped to the rope in three places. I looked like some ungainly
inchworm extending, compressing and then extending again, slowly up
and up toward the patches of blue sky above.

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The climb was arduous — I noted many an ant that passed me, walking
up the tree trunk — but the view was worth it. When I finally reached
the top of the rope, I allowed myself a moment to take a few deep
breaths and look around. In every direction were treetops of every
shade of green. There was even a light breeze, which felt invigorating
after the still, Stygian air of the forest floor below.

Photo by Colin Donihue: in the rainforest canopy of the Ecuadorian
Amazon, 125 feet off the ground looking for bromeliads.

The Ecuadorian Amazon is the most diverse rain forest in the world, with more species of trees — about 1,200 — in a quarter of a square mile than in all
of North America. These trees come in every shape and size, some with
leaves like trash can lids, some with sweet dangling fruit and bright
crimson flowers.

Over my two-month stay, we collected and disassembled
many bromeliads and found some beautiful frogs, two species of which
McCracken had discovered and named. While he still has a ton of data
to analyze, his findings should aid in conservation efforts in the
face of the oil companies anxious to drill in this unique area. My two
months were filled with many more adventures and memories.

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