The Daintree Canopy Crane: Conception, Installation and Operation

Stork, N.E. (2021)


The forest canopy is where the biosphere meets the atmosphere, and yet it has been poorly understood due to its inaccessibility. In the early 1990s, interest in the canopy of forests was increasing and researchers sought to attain greater access through the use of industrial cranes. In 1998 a crane was lowered, section by section, by helicopter and constructed in an area of lowland rainforest in the Daintree area of North Queensland. The constructed crane is 47 m high with a 55 m length jib providing access to the canopy of forest covering almost a hectare and including roughly 680 tree stems >10 cm DBH of 82 species. Since its installation, the crane has been used to provide novel insights into a range of fields including plant ecology and physiology, forest microclimate, and faunal and floral diversity. There has been a strong focus on insects including pollination and ant ecology, vertical distribution of insects from the ground to upper canopy, and the hidden diversity of insects and flowers. Current research using the crane is largely focused on the impacts of experimentally induced drought on trees and saplings and the consequences for insects. This paper describes the installation of the crane and initial management and functioning of the research facility. It provides insights on how best to install a canopy crane and maximise its use, as well as the pitfalls to avoid. Also addressed are the potential experimental problems posed by having a single site facility. Keywords: last biotic frontier, forest canopy, tropical rainforest, canopy access, forest drought experiment.