Nalini Nadkarni

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Nalini Moreshwar Nadkarni
Nalini Nadkarni speaking at TED in 2009.jpg
Nadkarni speaking at TED in 2009.
Born 1954 (age 63–64)
Nationality United States
Occupation Forest Ecologist

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.[1]


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.[2] She is the author of Between Earth and Sky: Our Intimate Connections to Trees[3] and has delivered TED Talks on Conserving the Canopy[4] and Life Science in Prison.[5] 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, [6] as well as bringing artists, like musician and biologist Duke G. Brady, into the forest canopy to write and perform.[7][8]

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.

Personal life[edit]

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[edit]

Nadkarni has gained many honors and awards.[9]

  • 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
  • Honorary Doctorate of Science from Brown University, 2014[10]
  • Time Magazine's Best Inventions of 2014: Blue Room, the prison room that helps inmates relax[11]

Eponymous species[edit]


  1. ^ Nadkarni, N.M. 1981. Canopy Roots: Convergent Evolution in Rainforest Nutrient Cycles. Science, 214: 1023 - 1024
  2. ^ Whiteman, Lily (2009-03-16). "More and More Scientists Serve Up Science for Mass Consumption | NSF - National Science Foundation". 
  3. ^ Nadkarni, Nalini (2009). Between Earth and Sky. ISBN 9780520261655. 
  4. ^ Nadkarni, Nalini, Conserving the canopy 
  5. ^ Nadkarni, Nalini, Life science in prison 
  6. ^ "Moss Conservation Behind Bars - Conservation". Conservation. 2008-07-29. Retrieved 2018-06-27. 
  7. ^ Dell'Amore, Christine. 2013. [1]. "5 Unconventional Ways to Get People Hooked on Nature". Article on Dr. Nadkarni's approach to thinking outside the box when engaging the public with scientific research.
  8. ^ Yoon, Carol. 2003. [2]. "Making Science Rock, Roll and Swing From the Treetops". Dr. Nadkarni is interviewed about making a "Treetop Barbie", bringing a hip hop musician to perform at a scientific conference, and recruiting "research ambassadors" to disseminate scientific information to the public.
  9. ^ "Utah Biologist Wins Public Engagement Award". 2012-01-09. Retrieved 31 July 2012. 
  10. ^ "Brown confers nine honorary degrees". Brown University. 25 May 2014. Retrieved 27 May 2014. 
  11. ^ Time Staff (November 20, 2014). "The 25 Best Inventions of 2014". Time. 
  12. ^ Bock, Paula (1995-10-29). "Living | Up There -- Twenty Stories Above The Forest Floor, This Olympia Scientist Is At The Top Of Her Field | Seattle Times Newspaper". Retrieved 2018-04-02. 

External links[edit]