, Volume 31, Issue 3, pp 791–812 | Cite as

Canopy Operation Permanent Access System: a novel tool for working in the canopy of tropical forests: history, development, technology and perspectives

  • Gerhard GottsbergerEmail author


Key message

The development of a new, low-impact, canopy-access system is described from its original idea until the final realization after about 30 years.


Based on the experience with previously existing methods, a new Canopy Operation Permanent Access System (COPAS), featuring a gondola or harness moveable in a three-dimensional way has been developed. The basic idea was to provide a novel canopy access system with a low impact to the ecosystem regarding vegetation structure, noise, and disturbances to animals. French Guiana was chosen for this permanent, long-term project, as it was considered to be the most appropriate country, owing to strong work conditions and the protection status of the forest. The realisation of the project started when a group of six researchers from France, the Netherlands and Germany were awarded by the Körber European Science Prize 1996 in Hamburg. The original partners to construct and erect COPAS in Saut Pararé (Les Nouragues reserve) were Ulm University and the CNRS in Paris. During the years of preparation and construction, along with experimentation, transportation and the final on-site construction, there were many political, financial and technical problems to overcome, which could not be foreseen. In this paper the problems, failures and setbacks will be described, along with the achievements and the final success of the project. After the Original vision, the project passed a Balloon Concept, a failure which ended with a Final Suspended Seat Concept. There are two aspects of the COPAS-project which have to be emphasized besides the important possibilities for biological and global change research: (1) the project involved international administration and funding, and (2) it was also a technological engineering and development research project.


Canopy access Prototype development Amazon forest French Guiana 



I am grateful to many people and the organisations that supported COPAS from its early conception to its realisation. The Körber Foundation in Hamburg was fundamental in providing the first large financial support, which started the enterprise (Prof. Dr. Reimar Lüst, Prof. Dr. Hubert Ziegler and the entire Scientific Curatorium of the Körber European Science Award, Dr. Ulrich Voswinckel, Dr. Nikolaus Besch). Further funding from Germany came from Ulm University and the Landesregierung Baden-Württemberg. French funding came from the CNRS and the European Community. Prof. Dr. Wilhelm Barthlott kindly brought me into contact with Dr. Loki Schmidt. Ulm University assumed responsibility for the initial administrative duties of COPAS, in particular the Chancellor of the University, Dr. Dietrich Eberhardt. Many collaborators of my working groups were actively involved with COPAS during the years: Joachim Döring from Giessen University elaborated the original and first triangle-mast-gondola concept. All other collaborators (in alphabetic order) were from Ulm University: Dr. Andrea Bernecker, Dr. Heiko Hentrich, Dr. Elke Freiberg, Dr. Martin Freiberg, Graciela Hintze, Dr. Bernhard Lohr, Dr. Robert Lücking, Hans Malchus, Evelin Schäfer, Dr. Michael Schessl, Dr. Albert-Dieter Stevens, Dr. Holger Teichert. We were also supported by the administrators and engineers of the Baudezernat of the University Ulm (Mr. Diepold, Mrs. Wechsel, Mrs. Wachter) and the Staatliches Hochbau- und Universitätsbauamt Ulm (Mr. Semmler, Mr. Hofmann, Mr. Lindenthal, Mr. Nethe, Mr. Frey, Mr. Saur). Many thanks must also go to the members of the Botanical Garden Ulm and to Prof. Dr. Ulrich Lüttge and the other Körber Prize Winners for their support and their patience in relation to the long and tedious COPAS process. I want to give my thanks also to Prof. Dr. Pierre Charles-Dominique, Dr. Philippe Gaucher and Prof. Dr. Alain Pavé, all CNRS, who were the initial and permanent force from the French team to bring COPAS to a positive end. The two following directors of CNRS in French Guiana, Dr. Anne Corval and Dr. Annaig Le Guen as well as Dr. Jerome Chave believed in COPAS and were also responsible for finishing it. Many further French colleagues and persons worked on COPAS. My quite incomplete list includes: Dr. J. P. Pascal (CNRS), Alain Weil (CNRS) Olivier Laroussini (ECOFOR), Denis Girou (SILVOLAB), Jean Weigel (CIRAD), Dr. Francis Cailliez (SILVOLAB), Mireille Charles-Dominique, Patrik Chatelet, Wémo Bétian, Desmo Bétian, Gilles Peroz, Hervé Serpette, Gérard Bons, Nathaniel Smith, Jacques Bonnefille, Pierre Koesse, Eugène Joseph, Christophe Bienaimé and Marcel Bertier (the last two are the skilled helicopter pilotes). Thanks also to Regina’s mayors Pierre Désert, Justin Anatole, Ange Mancini, and Michel Quammie, and the President of the Region Rodolphe Alexandre. My thanks go to the companies and engineer bureaus Happold, Kiessling, Glocker, Hammerl, Wörner, Kuder, to the Luftfahrtbundesamt (LBA), the Prüfamt für Baustatistik der Zweigstelle Augsburg, the APAVE and AIM. The Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) and the European Science Foundation kindly financed several trips to French Guiana and Brazil to evaluate possible sites for COPAS, and permitted a joint trip of the Körber Prize winners to French Guiana to get to know the Les Nouragues reserve and the future site of COPAS. Many thanks to Prof. Dr. Pierre Charles Dominique and Dr. Philippe Gaucher for providing many information about the whole COPAS process and to Pierre also for the larger part of the photo material illustrating this report. Graciela Hintze kindly elaborated the illustrations. Dr. Hugh Morris was very helpful in correcting language and style of the manuscript. To my wife Ilse the best thanks for her support during all the years.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Botanischer Garten/HerbariumUniversität UlmUlmGermany

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