Moss in Prisons Project: Inmates Help Scientists Study the Environment

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Looking to help ecologists cultivate large quantities of ecologically important slow-growing mosses that are being illegally stripped from Pacific Northwest forests by horticulturalists, Dr. Nalini Nadkarni at Evergreen State College found a group of eager researchers with time on their hands: inmates at Cedar Creek Corrections Center ,a medium security prison in Littlerock, Washington.

With partial funding from the National Science Foundation, Nadkarni has guided her team since 2004 in the Moss-in-Prisons project.

She said she approached the inmates as they had long periods of time available to observe and measure the growing mosses, access to extensive space to lay out flats of plants, and fresh minds to put forward new ideas. The program has been a huge success.

In addition to managing the Moss-in-Prisons research, Nadkarni helps the inmates run various projects that promote sustainable living, such as an organic garden that produces 15,000 pounds of fresh vegetables every summer, a bee-keeping operation, and a compost farm.

Nadkarni’s research is focused on the ecology of tropical and temperate forest canopies, particularly the role that canopy-dwelling plants play in forests. When she’s not in Washington State, she also does research at Monteverde, Costa Rica. Her work is supported by the National Science Foundation and the National Geographic Society. Nadkarni has published two books and over 55 articles in scientific journals in the area of forest canopy ecology and forest ecosystem ecology.

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