Press Release

National Geographic Society Names Nalini Nadkarni Explorer at Large

Ecologist and “Queen of the Forest Canopy” will serve as an ambassador for the global nonprofit organization

Washington, D.C., October 18, 2023 – Today, the National Geographic Society has appointed famed forest canopy researcher Nalini Nadkarni as a National Geographic Explorer at Large.

Nadkarni, an ecologist who pioneered the study of Costa Rican rainforest canopies and an avid science communicator, will serve as an ambassador for the National Geographic Society. As an Explorer at Large, Nadkarni will receive support for her research and in bringing accessibility to science and nature across communities.

Explorers at Large hold the highest distinction within the organization. They are preeminent leaders in their field who also serve as mentors to other National Geographic Explorers. The title is bestowed upon a few select global changemakers, including Explorers like storyteller Shahidul Alam, oceanographers Bob Ballard and Sylvia Earle, artist Maya Lin and ecologist Rodrigo Medellín.

“At the National Geographic Society, we often say science and exploration are our foundation, and storytelling and education are our superpowers. Nalini’s career embodies this sentiment,” said Jill Tiefenthaler, chief executive officer, National Geographic Society. “Nalini is passionate about sharing her work with people of all backgrounds to foster a greater understanding of and care for the natural world. This is key to our mission and among the many reasons we’re thrilled to name her a National Geographic Explorer at Large.”

Known as the “Queen of the Forest Canopy,” Nadkarni has created novel canopy access techniques to study the plants, animals and microbes that live in the tropical and temperate rainforest treetops in Costa Rica and Washington State. Nadkarni has discovered that the world of the canopy is a separate but deeply interrelated part of forest ecosystems, and has galvanized biologists to study this “last biotic frontier.”

An avid communicator and advocate of making nature and science accessible to people from all backgrounds, she has collaborated with preachers, policy-makers, artists and the incarcerated. The National Geographic Society supported her work in studying the positive effects of nature and nature imagery on the incarcerated, focusing on men in solitary confinement.

“I’m thrilled to weave my threads of discovery about trees and forest canopies into the tapestry of life that the National Geographic has helped describe and celebrate for over a century,” said Nadkarni. “Their unique set of resources serves as a loom to integrate the multiple values of nature – ecological, aesthetic, social and spiritual – which our increasingly fragmented world so greatly needs.”

“Curious, inspiring and committed to empowering the next generation, Nalini exemplifies what it means to be a National Geographic Explorer,” said Alex Moen, chief explorer engagement officer at the National Geographic Society. “A career Explorer with nearly four decades of scaling new heights in science, education and storytelling, we are thrilled to recognize her enduring commitment to illuminating and protecting the wonder of our world.”

She has published over 150 scientific papers and articles and three books. Her work has been featured in journals ranging from Science to Playboy, and in public media such as Science Friday, Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me and RadioLab. Her awards include a Guggenheim Fellowship, the AAAS Award for Public Engagement, the National Science Foundation Award for Public Service, The Wilson Award for the Advancement of Social Justice and the Archie Carr Medal for Conservation. Nadkarni is the subject of the award winning documentary film titled, “Between Earth and Sky.”

In her role as an Explorer at Large, Nadkarni will receive an annual stipend and access to additional project funding opportunities from the Society to support work that’s aligned with the Society’s mission to illuminate and protect the wonder of our world.


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About National Geographic Society

The National Geographic Society is a global nonprofit organization that uses the power of science, exploration, education and storytelling to illuminate and protect the wonder of our world. Since 1888, National Geographic has pushed the boundaries of exploration, investing in bold people and transformative ideas, providing more than 15,000 grants for work across all seven continents, reaching 3 million students each year through education offerings, and engaging audiences around the globe through signature experiences, stories and content. To learn more, visit or follow us on Instagram, LinkedIn, and Facebook.