If you're a tropical mountain cloud forest, having your head in the clouds is a good thing. The constant cloak of protective moisture creates a special environment that harbors a diverse set of plants and animals, including many species unique to the forests. Now, a new study in the 19 October issue of the international journal Science suggests that the loss of nearby lowland forests may rob these mountain refuges of critical cloud cover.
Cloud formation in these areas might be restored by breaking up the currently deforested land into a mosaic of uses, including fruit groves, forest corridors along rivers, pasture, and cropland, says Science author Robert O. Lawton.
Lawton, U.S. Nair, and Ron Welch of the University of Alabama in Huntsville explored the link between deforestation and cloud formation for the well-known Monteverde cloud forests of Costa Rica, a center of research, conservation, and ecotourism for nearly three decades. The Monteverde forests are home to thousands of animal and plant species, including the resplendent quetzal bird, golden toads, the jaguar, 5000 moth species, and 400 orchid species.
Cloud forests in the Caribbean form where mountain peaks force trade winds up past the point where clouds condense, leaving the windward side of the mountains immersed in a nearly perpetual bank of clouds. The cloud bank provides moisture in the form of mist and cloud droplets and reduces moisture loss by plants. In this wet and sheltered environment, plants called epiphytes can root themselves on trees and other plants, rather than in the soil.
"This type of ecosystem depends on the forest staying constantly wet, and consistently foggy. Any changes in this sodden state can produce dramatic changes for the flora and fauna," says Lawton.
Contact: Ginger Pinholster
American Association for the Advancement of Science