Tallest trees in the tropics discovered

From a freezing hotel ballroom in Kota Kinabalu, an exciting announcement was made about the sweltering tropical forests in the Heart of Borneo, in an area on the interior of Southeast Asia that straddles the borders of Malaysia, Indonesia, and Brunei. Using laser-scanning technology known as Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR), Greg Asner of Stanford University and the Carnegie Institution for Science revealed that his team had identified 50 new trees that break the previous record for the world’s tallest tropical tree announced earlier this year.

Fingers numb under the blasting air conditioning, I scribbled down every word I could manage. As an experienced scientist I knew exactly how to interpret and understand the data presented, but as a novice journalist I struggled to decide between listening to the presentation and moving closer to get a decent photo. In the end I succumbed to my nearly lifelong studenthood, which instilled a compulsion to listen, sit still, and hold all questions until the end1.

The photos I managed to get suffered (see below), but you can read the story I wrote for National Geographic News.

Of all the record-breaking trees discovered, the tallest is in Danum Valley Conservation Area, where I coincidentally just arrived. Camera trap deployments here will start this week; stay tuned for posts featuring photos from the cameras I recently collected from Penang Hill and Sepilok Forest Reserve.

1Staying awake and not eating crunchy foods are also generally part of the Code of the Courteous Audience Member. Anyone who has ever sat next to me in an auditorium, classroom, or extremely important meeting will tell you I struggle with these the most, but fortunately I managed to comply.

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Changing Planet

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Kevin McLean is an ecologist studying wildlife in tropical forest canopies using motion-sensitive cameras (camera traps). As a Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellow he will travel to Malaysian Borneo and the Ecuadorian Amazon to survey canopy wildlife in two of the most biodiverse areas of the world. As he collects his scientific data, he will use writing, photos, and videos to provide a view of some of the least-known species in the forest. His research and stories will be made available to the public through a museum exhibit that will highlight canopy wildlife and the conservation threats they face. Kevin studied Earth Systems at Stanford University and recently completed his PhD in Ecology and Biodiversity Conservation at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.