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Topographical aesthetics

Tropical mountain cloud forests are among the worlds most threatened ecosystems, rich in biodiversity with unique species that will soon have no home. In this multimedia art-science collaboration with NASA ecologist Dr. Robert Lawton, I participated in a two-decades-running field project to study how forest disturbances dynamics shape species compositions in the tropical cloud forests of Monteverde Costa Rica. By surveying a six-hectare plot for plant regeneration in tree fall gaps, I wanted to understand how our changing climate and nearby deforestation affects the structure of these forest communities. These forces help to sculpt forest communities aesthetics from the micro to macro scale - new light gaps opening in the dense canopies change plant and insect species compositions that we can witness in the leaf traces left by insects that bore their way through leaves.  


These map like topographical textures speak to the stories of land use at a local, regional, and global level and how decisions across scales impact ecosystem processes both large and small. Working from hemispherical photography images to capture tree canopy gap shapes, and scans of leaves found below tree gaps which contain leaf mining patterns, I construct topographical images to share the unique biological imprints of each location. A leaf is placed in the lower left corner to reference a map legend, give continuity between images, and provide some clarity of the abstracted shapes.


Through this work we also found that deforestation and global warming are pushing the clouds to higher ground, dramatically changing sensitive habitats, species compositions, and physical growth patterns.