Study reveals severe loss of cloud forest ecosystems

The Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve near Monteverde in Costa Rica. Keystone / Kent Gilbert

Tropical cloud forests can be found in 60 countries, but despite conservation efforts up to 8% of some forests have been lost in the past 20 years due to logging and small-scale farming.

This content was published on May 1, 2021 - 11:11

Tropical cloud forests are shrinking worldwide, according to an international study led by the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research (WSL) that was published on April 30 in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution.

Comparing satellite dataExternal link, researchers found that between 2001-2018 about 2.4% of the total area of cloud forests worldwide was lost, and even up to 8% in some regions.

Tropical cloud forests are mainly threatened by human activities such as cutting down trees for cultivation, small-scale agriculture or timber collection, WSL said in a statementExternal link. But climate change is also to blame with the cloud base moving downwards or upwards depending on the region, causing a loss of water supply.

WSL said protected areas are effective, but only if they are inaccessible and far from populated areas. About 40% of the loss continues to occur in these areas, it said.

"Often it was when areas were placed under state protection that deforestation really started, because before that, access to privately managed forests was generally prohibited. In contrast to private companies, nature conservation authorities in many countries often lack the financial means to sufficiently preserve these areas," said WSL biologist Dirk Karger.

These so-called “paper parks” – protected areas that exist only on paper – are not uncommon, he said.

Cloud forests are found in the tropics at altitudes of between 1,500-2,500 metres. They are extremely humid and are home to the world's greatest diversity of epiphytes, mosses, ferns, lichens and orchids, as well as mammals, amphibians and birds.

“Tropical cloud forests are probably home to the largest concentration of terrestrial species in the world. These regions, already small and fragmented, continue to lose area, with dramatic consequences for biodiversity and its functions,” said Walter Jetz, co-author of the study and director of the Yale Center for Biodiversity and Global Change in the United States.

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