Costa Rica’s Monteverde, climate change and effects on biodiversity

In the mountains of Costa Rica, the Monteverde cloud forest is a biological preserve that rest 5,000 feet above sea level, literally sits in clouds, and is constantly blanketed by mist.   (See Video Below) When touring the forest, you see bellbirds quetzals, monkeys, tarantulas, hummingbirds, strange insects, and much more. The forest’s thick fog provides moisture and nutrients for plants that grow on other plants, and the trees are thick with mosses and vines hanging off branches.

The biodiversity in Monteverde is amazing and attracts thousands of visitors a year. In Monteverde, you will find hundreds of different species of trees. Likewise, there are more bird species in tiny Costa Rica than found in the entire United States.

This biodiversity, though, may be threatened, as the climate in Monteverde is already changing. As the oceans have warmed, the clouds at Monteverde are forming at higher altitudes, and the amount of mist in the forest is far less than it was in the 1970s. Researcher, Dr. Karen Masters is studying the effect for the epiphytes – the plants growing on other plants, which account for half of the plant species in the forest. Her experiment shows the new conditions are poor for many species.

Two recent extinctions of toads in Monteverde, the golden toad and the harlequin toad appear to be linked to abnormally warm years. (Efforts are being made to reintroduce the golden toad) A more recent paper, which looks at extinctions of toads around the world, shows that recent abnormally warm years are extremely well correlated with toad extinctions, suggesting that climate change is already playing a large role in the loss of species.

The climate is clearly changing here, and the science is backed up by common sense: if you change the climate, you will lose species that cannot adapt. There are many reasons we should preserve biodiversity, as diverse ecosystems provide better services as well as potential pharmaceutical benefits. For me, though, the strongest argument is for simple existence. Each species represents millions of years of evolution, which is completely lost every time a species goes extinct.

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