Soaring over a dense canopy of trees, a flying, insect-like robot developed by Wake Forest researchers will give an unprecedented look at Peru’s tropical cloud forest, one of the world’s most biodiverse ecosystems.
The Peruvian cloud forest grows on the slopes of the Andes Mountains and marks the western border of the Amazon rainforest. This expansive region stretches across a swath of South America approximately the size of the continental United States. Few people truly grasp and appreciate its critically important role – driving the world’s climate and weather patterns and annually absorbing 1.5 billion metric tons of C02.
Even scientists know very little about the estimated 390 billion trees that make up this vitally important ecosystem. After all, the remote nature of the Amazon and its almost complete lack of infrastructure make it one of the most difficult places to reach, and therefore, hardest to study places in the world.
A bird’s eye view
Max Messinger, a biology graduate student, Marcus Wright, a chemistry lab manager, and Miles Silman, a biology professor and director of the Center for Energy, Environment and Sustainability (CEES), have come up with a novel solution to this problem.
“We were sitting in the lab brainstorming ideas about how to observe things in the canopy of Peru’s tropical forest,” Messinger said. “You can’t see anything useful from the ground so we came up with the idea to use an unmanned aerial vehicle or drone.”