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The Tropics:  More Than Just Rainforest

cloudforestwaterfall.jpg (3554 bytes)As you climb the mountain, you make your way into the forest. One thing that strikes you is the dense cloud cover, blocking sunlight and raising the humidity. Another is the abundance of epiphytes, plants such as mosses and lichens, growing on the short, twisted trees. You also notice the large number of ferns. You are in a tropical montane cloud forest (TMCF.)

Although many think the only forest in the tropics is tropical rain forest, there are many types, one of which is cloud forest. While cloud forests receive less attention than rain forests, in some places they are being lost at a greater rate. In the past, their steep slopes and cloud cover protected them from human disturbance. However, with populations increasing in tropical countries, people are forced to farm unsuitable land. When farmers remove cloud forests to plant crops, erosion occurs on the steep slopes. The lack of sunlight also makes it difficult for crops to grow.

Cloud forests are important for many reasons. Like the tropical rain forests, they contain diverse species, many of which are endemic: that is, species that are found only in that location. The vegetation also collects moisture directly from the clouds, providing water to surrounding areas during the dry season. In addition, the trees provide stability to the steep slopes, and the water-absorbing epiphytes store rain during the wet season, preventing landslides.

The main threat to cloud forests is what threatens most places in the tropics: population pressure. For the preservation of tropical montane cloud forests and other tropical ecosystems, rates of population growth need to decrease, and researchers need to introduce more sustainable agriculture. People also need to raise awareness of the important roles these ecosystems play.

March 1999

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Related books for sale at Amazon.com:

Tropical Montane Cloud Forests by Lawrence S. Hamilton, James O. Juvik, and F. N. Scatena
Monteverde: Ecology and Conservation of a Tropical Cloud Forest by Nalini M. Nadkarni and Nathaniel T. Wheelwright

 

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Last Updated Sunday, August 26, 2007 21:11 -0400

Suzanne P. Currie 1999 sciencelives@hotmail.com