Nalini Nadkarni (born 1954 in Bethesda, Maryland) is an 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 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.
An Emeritus Professor at The Evergreen State College, she currently is a professor in the Department of Biology and the director of the Center for Science and Mathematics Education at the University of Utah.
Nadkarni was born in Bethesda, Maryland, the third child to Moreshwar and Goldie Nadkarni. Her father immigrated to Iowa from Thane, India, while her mother is a Jewish Brooklyn native of Russian and Ukrainian descent. She has three living siblings-sister Saroj and brothers Vinay and Mohan. Another sister, Susheela, died in 1994. Nadkarni attended Brown University for her undergraduate degree and received a Ph.D. from the University of Washington. She is married to myrmecologist Jack Longino, who is also a professor at the University of Utah. They have two children.
Honors and Awards
Nadkarni has gained many honors and awards.
- John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship, 2001
- Aldo Leopold Leadership Fellowship, 2004
- University of Miami’s Distinguished Visiting Professor Award
- J. Sterling Morton Award from the National Arbor Day Foundation
- Grace Hopper Lifetime Achievement Award
- Public Service Award from the National Science Board, 2010
- AAAS Public Engagement With Science Award, 2011
- Monito del Giardino Prize for Environmental Action, 2012
- Procryptocerus nalini Longino & Snelling 2002 - Gliding ant
- Porina nadkarniae Lücking & Merwin 2008 - Epiphytic lichen
- Nadkarni, N.M. 1981. Canopy Roots: Convergent Evolution in Rainforest Nutrient Cycles. Science, 214: 1023 - 1024
- Fischer, Adelheid. 2005. Moss Conservation behind Bars. Conservation in Practice 6(3):35-36. Article on Dr. Nadkarni's project to involve prison inmates in moss cultivation and conservation.
- "Utah Biologist Wins Public Engagement Award". Retrieved 31 July 2012.
- Official website
- Bio details, Evergreen State College, Washington
- Nalini Nadkarni on the National Geographic Speaker's Bureau website.