Summer Blog Series – Kirstin Silvera Blogs from Costa Rica – Climate Change and Costa Rica’s Cloud Forests
As part of our summer-long blog series, Kirstin Silvera, a member of the CC-RAI team will be discussing climate change and its impact on coral reefs, biodiversity and more from a research placement in Costa Rica. Kirstin is currently a graduate student in the Faculty of Environmental Studies at York University and will begin her Law degree this coming fall. In the second of her blog series, Kirstin outlines the impact of climate change Costa Rica’s cloud forests.
Costa Rica is home to a rich amount of species diversity contained in each of its many ecosystems. It is one of the top 20 most biodiverse countries in the world, due in part to its varied geography which provides essential microclimates for many of its endemic species (INBio, 2012). Costa Rica’s landscape spans both the Caribbean and Pacific coastline that begin at sea level and leads into the central mountain range, which rises to over 3000 metres above sea level (University of Massachusetts Amherst, 2008). These changes in elevation cause differences in temperature and moisture which allow for a wide variety of distinct ecosystems and endemic species to exist (University of Massachusetts Amherst, 2008). Of particular importance are Costa Rica’s montane cloud forests that support many endemic species.
The Importance of Costa Rican Cloud Forests
Cloud forests rely on regular cloud immersion in order to maintain their unique ecosystem (Foster, 2001). Because of its mountainous landscape, Costa Rica is home to several cloud rainforests (INBio, 2012). These cloud forests exist above 1000 metres because of continuous horizontal circulation of precipitation, and are highly dependent on the height at which the clouds form for their existence (University of Massachusetts Amherst, 2008). Recent climate models are however predicting that with climate change, Costa Rican cloud forests could be negatively affected as they become warmer and drier (University of Massachusetts Amherst, 2008). If the predicted rise in temperature happens, species ranges in temperate zones are expected to shift upwards of 600 metres in elevation (University of Connecticut, 2008). With many species in these regions of Costa Rica having very limited altitudinal ranges, a 600 metre shift in elevation would put them in an ecosystem that they had not previously inhabited. These changes would consequently force other species to move out of their natural habitats.
Tropical regions may not be the first concern when one thinks about the effects of climate change, however, studies have shown a rise of approximately 0.75 degrees Celsius in the tropics since 1975. Climate change models are also predicting a further rise of 3 degrees Celsius in the next 100 years in Central and South America (University of Connecticut, 2008). “According to Karmalkar, as temperatures rise, various ecosystems will try to migrate to where they are comfortable, moving in an upslope direction in this case. As they migrate, plants and animals will disturb other species, and eventually run out of space as they reach the top of the mountains. The result may be a loss of many species that can’t survive the new conditions.” (University of Massachusetts Amherst, 2008). Preliminary studies have shown that the cloud bank around Monteverde Cloud Forest in Costa Rica is rising due to climate change (Pounds, Fodgen and Campbell, 1999).
Some researchers have gone as far as to say that “endemic species may provide early warning signals for climate change as an extinction driver because they will be the first to move outside their modeled climatic envelope” (Schwartz et al., 2006). Climate change caused changes to bird and lizard populations in Monteverde in the past which rebounded to cause extinction of other species (Pounds, Fogden and Campbell, 1999), making understanding and mitigating climate change all the more important for sensitive ecosystems such as the cloud forests of Costa Rica.
Other interesting resources:
La Selva Biological Station: La Selva Holds Two Workshops Addressing Climate Change
Área de Conservación Guanacaste (iACG): Climate Change and Biodiversity Workshop
This entry was posted on Wednesday, July 4th, 2012 at 3:57 pm and is filed under Case Studies, Climate Change Adaptation, Guest Blog, News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Responses are currently closed, but you can trackback from your own site.
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