Anyone with nicknames like “Real-Life Lorax” and “Einstein of the Treetops” seems perfectly suited to hold the attention of any tree care professional.
Along with those two unique — but very applicable — nicknames, Margaret Lowman, Ph.D., is also known as “Canopy Meg,” a nickname given in reference to her renowned expertise in canopy ecology. For over 30 years, Lowman has been focusing on everything that has to do with ecosystem health in the highest layer of the world’s forests, designing the methodology and essential tools of the trade — like hot-air balloons and walkways for treetop exploration. Lowman also is a biologist, educator, ecologist, writer, editor and public speaker. She was the 2015 keynote speaker at the International Society of Arboriculture International Conference and Trade Show.
“Canopy research, in parallel with arboriculture, has been a very wonderful marriage,” Lowman says. “I also will be giving a short chronology of some of the tool kits that have been developed in the last 30 years of exploring canopies. It’s a pretty extraordinary world. … We don’t carry a brief case to work with a computer and three-piece suit. We have helmets and harnesses. I think it’s wonderful to track where we’ve come from and where we’ve gone. A lot of overlaps occur [with arboriculture].”
Some of Lowman’s case studies, where different arboriculture and canopy access techniques, have helped save forests and inspired children to pursue careers in science. In other words, some “bigger picture” topics that have lasting impacts.
“There’s a real global view now of how important trees are to the health of the planet,” Lowman says. “Arborists and canopy scientists have done a lot to make that happen. We should pat ourselves on the back, but also we need a global perspective on how important all the work is we are doing.”
Before she was ever known by any of her unique nicknames, Lowman started from very humble beginnings.
“I started in 1979 in Australia, and I had to sew my own harness,” Lowman recalls with a chuckle. “I had to forge my own slingshot in a welding shop and had to buy a rope from a caver to get myself up a tree.”
Clearly, a lot has changed since 1979. Along with pioneering canopy science and engaging in a multitude of research projects, Lowman has authored more than 100 peer-reviewed scientific publications and several books. In January 2014, Lowman joined the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, as its inaugural chief of science and sustainability. In this role, she is responsible for the academy’s programs of scientific research and exploration.
Lowman says she was thrilled not only to have the opportunity to attend the ISA conference, but also be the event’s keynote speaker.
“This conference gives people the opportunity to come together … people like me, who work in relatively isolated situations,” Lowman says. “We don’t get into an office every day; we need to come together as a group, in this case with arborists, to share best practices, to think about these important issues so that everybody comes away with a better perspective and hopefully a better appreciation of what we do.”