By Aaron Searcy, publications associate
From high above the tallest treetops in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, author Rose Houk asks, “What goes on in the uppermost layers of this forest? Does anything live up there? What creatures big or small live in what’s called the forest canopy? And what is the canopy anyway?”
Houk’s questions about this hidden arboreal world form the basis of an article that appeared in Smokies Life volume 9, no. 2—one of the ‘missing issues’ of Smokies Life recently made available online by GSMA. A special author reading of her article, “Life in the Canopy,” is also featured in the very first episode of GSMA’s brand new podcast, Smoky Mountain Air.
Although the study of forest canopies is still a relatively new realm of the biological sciences (involving everything from old-fashioned harnesses and ropes to satellites, lasers, and aircraft), some experts estimate that canopies may hold up to half of all living species on earth.
“It was fascinating to think of what goes on in the highest treetops of the Great Smokies,” said Houk. “I mean, the trees are so tall and magnificent, and just to gaze up at them and realize there are whole ecosystems within ecosystems in that umbrella of forest—things like slime molds!—that was a challenge to think about and describe. Plus, as a person who's fairly averse to heights, especially hanging off ropes with nothing but air between me and the ground, I lived vicariously and in awe of those fearless tree climbers!”
For the purposes of her article, Houk worked closely with experts in the Smokies and beyond as they climbed into the highest reaches of the forest to learn more. “Biologist Harold Keller and his students at the University of Central Missouri were really helpful—they made those slime molds come alive. And all the smart scientists at Twin Creeks Science and Education Center were most generous with their time. They know every critter big and small in the park. Once I found park biologist Paul Super over in North Carolina, he pulled it all together for me. I was most envious of his view of the canopy from his office!”
Houk’s article on the diverse wildlife that reside in the forest canopy and the risky, physical work required to identify these creatures is now available for the first time on both the Smoky Mountain Air podcast and GSMA’s missing issues webpage.
Rose Houk is the author of Cades Cove: Dream of the Smoky Mountains, Smoky Mountain Elk, Pictures for a Park, and a variety of other publications for Great Smoky Mountains Association
Smoky Mountain Air can be found on all the usual podcast-hosting platforms, including Apple, Spotify, Google Podcast and Stitcher. The missing Smokies Life issues can be found at smokiesinformation.org/missingissues.