Treetop explorer

How do scientists find out what goes on in treetop bromeliad pools? We asked Nalini Nadkarni, who has studied these pools for 20 years. For her, the answer starts with a slingshot.

That’s what she uses to shoot a fishing line over a branch high up in a rainforest tree. Next she uses the fishing line to pull a rope over the branch. Then she climbs the rope into the treetop, where she studies bromeliads and other plants (see photos).

She remembers the first time she tried this. “From my perch at the top of the tree, I could see for miles. I began to yell with excitement!”

Today, she’s still climbing–and she’s still excited.


Nalini grew up climbing trees in her backyard in Maryland. Early on, she knew she wanted to be a dancer or a forest scientist. When she got to college, she didn’t like doing indoor science. But she loved going outside and trying to understand how plants and animals work together.

Now Nalini works as a scientist. Most of the year, she teaches science at a college. But every summer, her whole family goes to Costa Rica to learn about the rainforest. Nalini studies plants while her scientist husband studies insects. And their two kids climb trees!

We asked Nalini to tell us some of her favorite things:

Food: Broiled cheese-and-carrot sandwiches, apples, and butter-pecan ice cream.

Expressions: “WOW!” Also, “Be aware.”

Childhood Books: Anything about survival, including My Side of the Mountain by Jean George and Swiss Family Robinson by Johann Wyss.

TV Program: Hates TV. Thinks people should climb trees instead.

Message: “Suck in the wonders of nature, from tiny mosses to huge forests.”

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