Nalini Nadkarni (born 1954) is an Indian-American ecologist who pioneered the study of Costa Rican rain forest canopies. Using mountain climbing equipment to make her ascent, Nadkarni first took an inventory of the canopy in 1981, followed by two more inventories in 1984.
Nadkarni's interest was first drawn to rain forest ecology due to the contradiction offered by its plant life. There was a great abundance and variety of plant life within the rain forest despite its nutrient poor soil, and her goal was to discover how the plant life was sustained. Her studies within the canopy revealed that the epiphytes, which are non-parasitic plants such as orchids and ferns that live on the branches and trunks of other plants, were trapping organic material beneath their root system. This organic material eventually formed a nutrient rich mat, and trees in the rain forest had developed aerial roots, stemming from their trunks and branches, in order to absorb these nutrients as well. The aerial roots growing into the mats aided the rain forest trees by providing the nourishment that they did not receive from the nutrient poor soil.
Nadkarni and her work in the Costa Rican rain forest were featured in the 1988 PBS series, The Second Voyage of the Mimi, starring a young Ben Affleck. She maintains an interest in public outreach, and her work was highlighted on the web page of the National Science Foundation. She is the author of Between Earth and Sky: Our Intimate Connections to Trees and is the lead scientific advisor and featured expert in the documentary film series The Truth About Trees. She also wrote some text (foreword and quotes) for a book for young explorers entitled, Kingfisher Voyages: Rain Forest, published in 2006. Her work has included developing moss growing techniques with prisoners...
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