What is climate change doing to the Forest?

I’ve heard stories from a variety of sources about what climate change is doing to the cloud forest in Monteverde. The electrical company, ICE, predicts that the electricity generated from hydro will be less due to lower rainfall but actual rainfall figures so far show increased rainfall. And then there is also the possibility of climate change being complicit in the extinction of the golden toad. So what exactly is going on?

A while ago I attended a lecture on the changes in rainfall patterns associated with climate change in Monteverde. The lecture was given to tropical ecology students by Alan Pounds, an climate change expert who lives locally.

The main change he talked about was that while overall rainfall does seem to be increasing it is falling in heavier showers with longer dry spells in between, and less of the mist that typifies cloud forest. Those mists enable a proliferation of epiphytic life and associated ecosystems to live up in the canopy, the defining feature of cloud forest.

He and Karen Masters have been conducting a study looking at how tiny orchids of the Monteverde cloud forest respond to longer dry periods. What they are finding if that these orchids are struggling to survive the length of dry periods we are already getting. Alan Pounds thinks that what this means for the forest as a whole is that the cloud forest will gradually turn into rainforest.

Cloud forests may be among the first two ecosystems, along with coral reefs, to become extinct worldwide due to climate change. Better come and see them while you have the chance!