Tropic of Twin Cities

Photo by Robert Pittman, Flickr Creative Commons

For many Minnesotans, “tropical” connotes vacation, beaches, pineapples and suntans. With the help of an Institute on the Environment Mini Grant, the Twin Cities Tropical Environments Network (TC-Tropics for short) hopes to expand this view to include the great diversity of tropical environments beyond the beach.

Why the Tropics?

Tropical regions occur between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn, the area of the earth surrounding the equator. The tropics contain the greatest levels of biodiversity in the world, including charismatic animals such as the orangutan and numerous species that have not yet been discovered by humans. Equatorial regions are home to beautiful coral reefs, forests that are critically important to global climate, and billions of people who live in remote rural areas, cities and everywhere in between. In other words, the tropics are a varied and vital part of the planet.

Despite residing more than a thousand miles away from the nearest tropical region (Mexico), plenty of tropical enthusiasts populate the Twin Cities. These include people who work at not-for-profit organizations, businesses that source products from tropical farms or academic institutions, as well as individuals who are from or feel a strong connection to the tropics. A common theme among such individuals is their recognition of the many challenges, such as deforestation and rapid urban development, faced by tropical environments.

TC-Tropics was founded in order to bring these people and organizations together. The group aims to foster connections and networking in an atmosphere where ideas and collaborations surrounding tropical environments flow freely. TC-Tropics provides a venue in which tropics-specific projects are developed, funding sources are identified and ideas are shared. It’s modeled on the Bay Area Tropical Forest Network, a group in the San Francisco Bay Area broadly interested in tropical forest conservation and ecology.

Tropical Feature: Dry Forests

In 2014, TC-Tropics is hosting monthly meetings all over the Twin Cities. At the April event, hosted at the Institute on the Environment, Maga Gei, a University of Minnesota doctoral candidate, discussed her research in the tropical dry forests of Costa Rica.

One of the most endangered tropical ecosystems is tropical dry forest, such as the Atlantic Forest on the coast of Brazil. Unlike their lush, green and humid forest cousins, tropical dry forests are often spiny, hot and, during parts of the year, very dry. These attributes make dry forests very suitable for agriculture, and many tropical dry forests have already been converted to croplands or pasture.

Gei told us that most of the world’s nitrogen fixation — the process by which plants gather nitrogen from the air and use it to support growth — occurs in the tropics. She is doing experiments in Costa Rica to understand how trees tune nitrogen fixation to available resources such as light. If you are interested in learning more about her work, you can check out Gei’s website.

Upcoming Events

During the summer months, TC-Tropics events will be relaxed happy hours for networking and conversation. The next get-together is June 17 at Republic 7 Corners at 5 pm. Check the TC-Tropics website for upcoming July and August events.

Starting in Fall 2014, TC-Tropics will feature discussions with some amazing scholars and practitioners who have worked extensively in tropical regions. William Moseley, a geography professor at Macalester, will be talking on Thurs., Sept. 11. Jahi Chappell, director of agroecology and agriculture policy at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, will be joining us Nov. 11 to discuss the need for action, ethics and values in ecology, with examples from food systems in the tropics.

If you are interested in speaking at a TC-Tropics gathering, hosting an event or suggesting a speaker, please email with your idea!

For more information about the Twin Cities Tropical Environments Network, please visit our website.


When not researching how to improve the sustainability of tropical agriculture as a post-doc at the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment, you can find Kimberly running around a lake, learning to speak Portuguese or dancing Lindy Hop.

Photo: Robert Pittman (Flickr Creative Commons)