Language

What is a tropical montane cloud forest?

Montane cloud forests are a relatively rare type of rainforest, occurring on high mountains in the tropics, generally between 2,000 and 3,500 meters. They are often shrouded in mist and fog, and thus are commonly called cloud forests. The high precipitation and cool year-round temperatures give cloud forests a unique plant community rich in high biomass with abundant epiphytic orchids, bromeliads, ferns, mosses, and lycopods. Shrubs are also common in cloud forests and are often short and heavily covered with epiphytes, especially mosses, lichens, and bromeliads.

Cloud Forest- Photo Credit: Layla Crabtree

Guided Walking Bridge Tour at Monteverde Cloud Forest- Photo Credit: Heather Zimba

What is an Elfin wood forest?

Elfin Forest- Photo Credit: Brett ColeThere are several sub-types of Cloud forest including Elfin Forests. At very high elevations trees and shrubs become noticeably shorter and often look gnarly and overloaded with epiphytes. This type of stunted forest is often referred to as an Elfin wood or Elfin forest. This is because at these high elevations there is persistent mist, decreased exposure to sunlight and decreased temperature. All these factors limit the ability of plants to grow, and the result is lower plant diversity and shorter, stunted growth. Additionally, at these higher elevations, epiphytes will often include epiphyllus communities, which are made up of small to minute flora and fauna that occupy tropical leaves and branches. Common small epiphytes include lichens, mosses, green algae, bacteria, fungi, protozoans, slime molds and many other species.

How are clouds formed?

The process of forming clouds takes several steps. First, water evaporates off the sea or land surface forming a warm mass of air. Next, this air is carried by winds up the side of mountains to higher elevations. As the wind forces the mass of air and water vapor up the side of the mountain, it cools and condenses forming water droplets that appear as clouds and eventually mist and rain.

topography and precipitation in Costa Rica graph

Where do they occur?

Tropical montane cloud forests are very rare and represent only a fraction of the world's remaining tropical forests. The best current estimate is that only 0.14% of the entire land surface of the planet are of this type. In addition to Central America, tropical montane cloud forests are found in South America, Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Caribbean.

What makes them special?

Since they are almost always covered in clouds, tropical montane cloud forests have very unique climate conditions. This affects the plants and animals there and the ecosystem as a whole. Tropical montane cloud forests are home to an incredible number of diverse plant and animal species.

Plants in Cloud Forests have special adaptations allowing them to flourish including:

  • Epiphytes- a plant that grows on another plant but is not parasitic, such as the numerous ferns, bromeliads, air plants, and orchids growing on tree trunks and shrubs.
    Lots of Epiphytes- Photo Credit: Layla Crabtree Epiphytes- Photo Credit: Jan Bowman, Professor of Biology
  • Lianas- are woody vines that is rooted in the soil and climbs or twines around other plants.
    Vines and Lianas at Monteverde Cloud Forest- Photo Credit: Heather Zimba
  • Sclerophyllous leaves- many plants have leaves with thick waxy cuticles to regulate gas exchange.
  • Trichomes are small, hair-like projections emanating from the leaf of a rainforest plant and the stem of an epiphytic vine. These projections form the nuclei for water to condense on, and this water can then be used by the plant itself or the plant may allow the water to drip to the soil and be taken up by the roots. The trichomes also solve another problem by holding the water droplets off the leaf (or stem) surface proper, thus helping to prevent the growth of fungi on the plant surface.
  • Lenticels- are raised pores in the stem of a woody plant that allows gas exchange to occur more readily.
    Lenticels on Roots- Photo Credit: Emily Olds

Common species found in Cloud Forests include:

Plants:

  • Epiphytes include lichens, mosses, ferns, liverworts, cacti, orchids, bromeliads, and many more - over 15,500 species!
    Close-up of a Bromeliad Photo Credit: Heather Zimba Epiphyte- Photo Credit: Bob Ratterman, Professor of Biology at SUNY JCC
  • Tree Ferns-Tree ferns are not really trees because they don’t have true trunks. Their stems are structures called rhizomes from which the fronds arise. The rhizomes may be up to 60 cm in diameter and up to 12 m tall.
    Tree Fern Photo Credit: Jan Bowman, Professor of Biology at SUNY JCC Tree Fern Photo Credit: Bob Ratterman, Professor of Biology at SUNY JCC
  • Bamboo Trees-thrive in montane environments, especially the genus Chusquea
  • Cecropia Tree-Have a very open canopy with palmately compound leaves. It is not uncommon to see sloths hanging in their open canopy.
    Leaves of a Cecropia Tree Photo Credit: Bob Ratterman, Professor of Biology at SUNY JCC
  • Orchids-Epiphytic flowering plants. Flowers often mimic mating structures of insects. Rely heavily on insects for pollination.
    Orchid Photo Credit: Layla Crabtree Orchid Photo Credit: Bob Ratterman, Professor of Biology at SUNY JCC

Animals:

Birds:

  • Tanagers- Many colorful tanagers and bush-tanagers are unique to cloud forests.
  • Antbirds- several typical and ground Antbirds can be found in cloud forests.
  • Hummingbirds- approximately thirty species of hummingbirds are found in the Monteverde cloud forest.
    Male Green-crowned Brilliant (Heliodoxa jacula) at Monteverde  Photo Credit: Bob Ratterman, Professor of Biology at SUNY JCC

Mammals:

  • Bats- there are a number of bat species found in cloud forests including the Vampire Bat (Desmodus rotundus)
    “Nectar-Feeding Bat at Monteverde Cloud Forest Preserve” Photo Credit: Bob Ratterman, Professor of Biology at SUNY JCC
  • The coatimundis or coatis (Nasua spp.) are members of the raccoon family. With very pointy noses and streamlined raccoon-like bodies, male coatis generally travel alone while females and young travel in groups. Coatis are omnivorous and inhabit a wide range of habitats, from deserts to mountains to rainforests.

Arthropods:

  • Guanacaste Stick Insect (Calynda bicuspis) - walking stick insect with a distinctive body shape and appears green or brown in color. Stick insects are great mimics and use their ability to camouflage themselves as branches and remain motionless during the day to avoid predators.
    Walking Stick- Photo Credit: Jan Bowman, Professor of Biology at SUNY JCC

Monteverde Cloud Forest, Costa Rica

Walking Bridges at Monteverde Cloud Forest- Photo Credit: Layla Crabtree

Monteverde is a cloud forest located along Costa Rica’s northern continental divide and is 1,440 m above sea level. Established as a Cloud Forest Reserve back in 1972, it initially covered some 328 ha of forested land but has expanded overtime and now extends to over 14,200 ha today. In the Monteverde Reserve there are 100 species of mammals, 400 species of birds, and 1,200 species of amphibians and reptiles living within its boundaries. It is one of the few remaining habitats that support all six species of the cat family – jaguars, ocelots, pumas, oncillas, margays, and jaguarundis – as well as the endangered three-wattled bellbird and resplendent quetzal.

Walking in the Monteverde Cloud Forest- Photo Credit: Layla Crabtree

Works Cited

List of works cited

Cloud Forests Conserving Biological Treasures: What are Cloud Forests. (2002).

San Francisco Botanical Garden. Retrieved from http://www.sfbotanicalgarden.org/cf/cf/

Kricher, John. A. (1997). A Neotropical Companion (2nd ed.). Princeton University Press. 

Monteverde’s Cloud Forests. (2011). MonteverdeInfo. Retrieved from http://www.monteverdeinfo.com/monteverdes-cloud-forests.html

Monteverde, Costa Rica. (2005-2007). Marietta College Biology and Environmental Science Department Field Trip. Retrieved from http://w3.marietta.edu/~biol/costa_rica/monteverde/monteverde_tl.htm

Tropical Montane Cloud Forests. (2010). Canopy in the Clouds. Retrieved from http://www.canopyintheclouds.com/learn/

Resplendent Quetzal. (2017). National Geographic Society. Retrieved from http://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/birds/r/resplendent-quetzal/

Rojas Alvarado, A. (1999). Tree Ferns of Cloudbridge: Cloudbridge Nature Reserve - Nature Notes No.13. Helechos arborescentes de Costa Rica. Inst. Nac. de Biodiversidad, Sto. Domingo de Heredia, Costa Rica. Retrieved from http://www.cloudbridge.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/NatureNotesNo13.pdf

Photo credit

Layla Crabtree (Photographer). (2017). Cloud Forest.

Heather Zimba (Photographer). (2017). Guided Walking Bridge Tour at Monteverde Cloud Forest.

Brett Cole (Photographer). (2017). Elfin Forest.

Layla Crabtree (Photographer). (2017). Lots of Epiphytes (Left Photo).

Jan Bowman, Professor of Biology at SUNY JCC (Photographer). (2017). Epiphytes (Right Photo).

Heather Zimba (Photographer). (2017). Vines and Lianas at Monteverde Cloud Forest.

Emily Olds (Photographer). (2017). Close-up of Lenticels on Roots.

Heather Zimba (Photographer). (2017). Close-up of a Bromeliad (Left Photo).

Bob Ratterman, Professor of Biology at SUNY JCC (Photographer). (2017). Epiphytes (Right Photo).

Jan Bowman, Professor of Biology at SUNY JCC (Photographer). (2017). Tree Fern (Left Photo).

Bob Ratterman, Professor of Biology at SUNY JCC (Photographer). (2017). Tree Fern (Right Photo).

Bob Ratterman, Professor of Biology at SUNY JCC (Photographer). (2017). Leaves of a Cecropia Tree.

Layla Crabtree (Photographer). (2017). Orchid (Left Photo).

Bob Ratterman, Professor of Biology at SUNY JCC (Photographer). (2017). Orchid (Right Photo).

Bob Ratterman, Professor of Biology at SUNY JCC (Photographer). (2017). Male Green-crowned Brilliant (Heliodoxa jacula) at Monteverde.

Bob Ratterman, Professor of Biology at SUNY JCC (Photographer). (2017). Nectar-Feeding Bat at Monteverde Cloud Forest Preserve.

Jan Bowman, Professor of Biology at SUNY JCC (Photographer). (2017). Walking Stick.

Layla Crabtree (Photographer). (2017). Walking Bridges at Monteverde Cloud Forest.

Layla Crabtree (Photographer). (2017). Walking in the Monteverde Cloud Forest.

Printer-friendly version