Although they sound like something out of a fiction book, cloud forests are an actual and important component of Earth’s biodiversity. They may also be referred to as tropical montane forests, primas woods, or water forests. What is the cloud forest, then, and what kinds of animals call it home? Let’s examine one of the planet’s most enigmatic and secretive locations in more detail.
What Is a Cloud Forest?
Evergreen cloud forests are found at elevations typically ranging from 3,250 feet to 8,200 feet. They have a misty, hazy look due to their extremely high moisture content—nearly 100% in certain places. Typically, the low-level, seasonal cloud forms at the canopy level. These forests often include shorter trees with twisted trunks and branches, giving the trees an even more sinister appearance. 385 inches of precipitation can fall annually!
How Are Cloud Forests Formed?
“Naxchap li choq,” which translates as “the forest catches the clouds,” is how the Q’eqchi’ Maya language describes how these woods form.
This is known as “lateral cloud filtration” in science. When air currents from the sea go inland and cool, they meet the steep mountain slopes to generate clouds. Moisture collects on leaves and needles as clouds pass across tree crowns, then condenses into larger drops that eventually fall to the earth as rain. The mosses on the tree branches are also saturated by it. The woodland plants get their moisture from this source.
These forests have very wet, highly acidic soil that forms humus and peat in the upper soil layer due to low sunshine and high water content.
Where Are They Found?
Water forests can be found in many different places of the world. For instance, clouds cover the Sitka spruces and hemlocks on Cape Lookout Point on the Oregon coast. On a windy day, walking beneath them will get you wet even when it’s not raining! On the other hand, tropical cloud forests are typically brought up when cloud forests are discussed.
Only in hilly regions can one find tropical cloud forests. They also exclusively exist on either side of the equator in the tropical regions. Although montane cloud forests can be found in 12 countries, the majority of them are in Venezuela, Ecuador, Mexico, and Colombia. Others can be found across Indonesia, in southern Brazil, Costa Rica, northern Australia, South India, Vietnam, and Cambodia.
These unique woodlands are unfortunately at danger. Cloud forests made up 1 percent of all forests worldwide in the 1970s, but now they barely make up 1%. Because of global warming, forest vegetation is being forced to grow at higher, colder altitudes where there is less rainfall, which is difficult for the plants and animals to survive. Lower slopes are being cleared by deforestation as well. The water forest in the St Helena Peaks National Park alone shrank to about 16 hectares in 2008 from an estimated 130–1100 hectares based on historical data. The surviving forest is being protected because it is essential to the island’s water supply for plants, animals, and people.
Cloud Forests vs Rainforests
A few key characteristics set cloud forests apart from rainforests. The first is the place. Mountainous areas are invariably home to cloud forests. They also have more acidic soil, less sunlight, and a lower temperature. There is a labyrinthine mass of vegetation generated by the shorter, denser trees. In contrast, regular layered canopies with trees up to 200 feet in height are seen in rainforests. Although rivers are found in both habitats, they are larger, slower-moving rivers with silt beds in rainforests. Rivers in cloud forests are shallow, swift-moving, and have stony bottoms. The wildlife in the two forests is likewise significantly different.
Why Are They So Important?
Water forests are essential in terms of biodiversity. Endemism is the term for the fact that many of them contain flora and fauna that are unique to Earth.
They are also very efficient “water factories.” For instance, Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras, receives 40% of its water supply from a cloud forest.
What Animals Live in Cloud Forests?
Cloud forests need to be the top priority for conservation worldwide, according to many environmentalists. These are a handful of the creatures that call that place home.
Red-eyed Stream Tree Frog
These frogs inhabit the cloud forests of Costa Rica and Panama, and their species is critically endangered. They do well in cool, damp conditions, although there is a threat to their habitats.
Clouded leopards are an ancient species of cat that have long resided in water forests. Their broad paws feature unique footpads designed to help them hold onto branches. They pursue wild boars, tiny deer, and primates.
The Talamancan highland forests of Costa Rica and Panama are home to these species. They seem considerably different, and they eat mostly fruit. They belong to the Monteverde Forest Preserve’s natural species.
Mexican Alligator Lizard
In Mexico’s cloud forests, the Mexican alligator lizard inhabits an altitude of roughly 130 feet. They devour insects, which they crunch with their keen teeth, and have a vivid, bright green colour.