Cloud forests are some of the most magical looking environments on Earth. Their beauty is the first and most noticeable thing about them. However, beyond the layers of mist and cloud that often blanket the trees of these forests, there is much more to be seen. There is beauty in the life of these forests and the life they provide to the organisms in and around them. Unfortunately, we may not have them to enjoy for much longer.
Cloud forests are mountain forests that exist in tropical and sub-tropical climates. They appear at altitudes between 1,600 and 10,000 feet, with the lower cloud forests appearing on mountainous islands in the ocean. The trees within these forests are 50 feet or more in the lower altitudes. Cloud forests in higher altitudes have shorter trees.
One of the most important and most interesting things about cloud forests is the water that they use and produce. The forests actually collect the water from the mists and clouds that hover and move through their trees. This water is then taken into the forest and provided to local life – even humans. The La Tigra cloud forest in Honduras supplies 40 percent of the water that 850,000 nearby humans use. For this reason, cloud forests are sometimes called “nature’s water towers.”
There is quite an abundance of life in cloud forests. However, an estimated 80 percent of the varieties of life forms in cloud forests have gone undocumented. There simply has not been much study on the flora and fauna of cloud forests. We do know that some endangered species, such as gorillas, make their homes in cloud forests. Other species are found only in cloud forests. That means that if the cloud forests disappear, so will these animals and plants.
Some experts have calculated that it may take as little as a decade for all of the cloud forests to vanish from the Earth. Changes in the amount of water available to the forests through mists can cloud would change the ecosystem. Deforestation — which is occurring in some cloud forests — would remove the cloud forests altogether. It is feared that global warming and pollution will transform the lush, misty, water producing landscapes into dry forests and then perhaps worse.
Because of the obvious threats to the world’s cloud forests, the Cloud Forest Conservation Alliance was formed. The alliance helps raise awareness of the problem and aid in conserving these fairy tale forests. A lot is going to need to change and quite a bit of research will have to be crammed into a short time. If we only have ten years, we have a lot of work to do if we want to lessen the impact we are having on this planet.
Cloud Forest Conservation Alliance, retrieved 6/21/11, cloudforests.org
Roach, Joan, Cloud Forests Fading in the Mist, Their Treasures Little Known, retrieved 6/21/11, news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2001/08/0813_cloudforest.html