Canopy Meg: A Modern Day Pioneer Who Wears Her Levi’s® in the Rainforest Treetops

Levi Strauss & Co.
March 14, 2016

Dr. Meg Lowman is a woman of many titles; she is an American biologist, educator, ecologist, writer, editor and public speaker. But of all these titles she prefers one nickname: Canopy Meg.
National Geographic has called her the “real-life Lorax,” while the Wall Street Journal has dubbed her “Einstein of the treetops.” Others affectionately know her as the “mother of canopy research” for her pioneering work establishing the field of canopy ecology.
For over thirty years, Meg has solved mysteries of insects and ecosystem health in the highest layer of the world’s forests, paving the way by designing tools to study the area – namely, through hot-air balloons and walkways, and in recent years, through drones and mounted cameras.

Currently, Meg is Director of Global Initiatives at the California Academy of Sciences (Cal Academy), and continues to inspire others to devote their lives to science and the excitement of the great “salad bar of the sky.” Her leadership in the environmental sustainability field focuses heavily on encouraging women, minorities, and people with limited-mobility to choose careers in science. “It’s important that we’re giving equity in our world of science, to get all those wonderful brain cells,” said Meg. Meg’s personal mantra is “no child left indoors.”

The California Academy of Sciences – Photo Credit: Tim Griffith

Museums with Purpose
At Cal Academy, Meg is responsible for programs in scientific research and exploration. She works to fully integrate and expand the Cal Academy’s research, activities, and efforts to address sustainability challenges, as well as their direct global initiatives. Meg believes in the role museums and research can play in having a positive impact on the planet.
“It’s not good enough just to bring things home in jars and store them and study them,” argued Meg. “We have to say to ourselves, ‘Will this make a difference? Will it benefit people that live in a developing country? Will it help promote policies to preserve their rain forest?’ We are really taking that sustainability piece very seriously.”
Meg also works tirelessly with global communities to conserve rainforests. She recently worked with and wrote about a girl named Beza, who is helping to conserve the last forests and biodiversity of northern Ethiopia, where less than five percent of their forests remain. “I’ve had to make partnerships with priests, because the last forests are in the church yards,” explained Meg. “As a scientist, working with young people around the world is a big opportunity and a thrill.”
What’s It Like Up in the Trees?
For Meg, the root of her research and career also comes back to the awe that nature inspires. “There’s something really wonderful and spiritual about climbing trees. And the treetops are an amazing place – the sounds, the sights, millions of beetles chewing on leaves, all sorts of really wild and wonderful things like orchids and sloths that you can’t see from the ground level,” said Meg.
And what does Meg wear 200 feet up in the trees? You guessed it, Levi’s® jeans. “I really do. It started back when I lived in Australia. I wore Levi’s® jeans to save face – I couldn’t look like a geek scientist all the time. But they are also perfectly durable and comfortable for working in the canopy. I also love the fact that the company advocates for fabrics that age with you, and their commitment to being sustainable.”


Everyone Can Play a Role In Saving the Rainforest
What can individuals do on an everyday basis to support the environment and a sustainable future? “Take a girl to a museum; buy a kid a nature book; or take a child outdoors, especially girls, and allow them to get their feet muddy or pick up a worm. Just relish nature, because that’s going to go a long way towards helping them become global citizens.”
And when it comes to saving the rainforests, consumer habits also make a difference. “Don’t buy products with palm oil. Try to find shade-grown coffee, which directly contributes to farmers valuing the forest as part of their agricultural operation, rather than most coffee, which is grown on cleared land. Don’t buy timber from Brazil if you can buy it from plantations in the United States.”


Inspiring the Next Generation of Female Scientists
Over the course of her career, Meg has seen a lot of change in terms of women working in her field, and in science in general. “I will admit I never had a woman science teacher. Isn’t that appalling?” Meg attended Williams College as a member of the school’s second-ever class of women. Recreational tree climbing, as well as forestry departments, are historically male-dominated, as well.
Meg doesn’t think it has to be this way. “Women can typically build trust faster with local people than men can, which is a huge asset in our work, explained Meg. “Inspiring more women to go into science is a huge win for sustainability.”
Image Header Photo Credit: Carlton Ward Jr.
This is part of an ongoing series designed to feature people who are changing the world. Our Modern Day Pioneers are impacting everything from culture to social issues to the environment, and they’re challenging the status quo in a unique way. We hope these stories will inspire and empower you to live your life to its fullest in Levi’s®
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