Shrouded in uncertainty

Published: Monday 15 March 2004

Thinning out: a cloud forest c (Credit: W FERWERDA UNEP / WCMC)Imagine a dense forest lush with orchids, mosses and ferns on practically every surface, where each tree branch is like a garden, and the air is cool and damp due to perpetually misty conditions. These extraordinary rainforests, known as cloud forests, are under threat from climate change and human activities, observes a report of the United Nations Environment Programme (unep).

Cloud forests provide year-round freshwater supplies to millions, and are home to several endemic and threatened species. These factors underscore their economic significance (see page 60). "A rise in temperature can result in the clouds lifting and the forest drying out," warns Philip Bubb, co-author of the report entitled 'Cloud Forest Agenda'. The 1987 El Nino, believed to have been more intense due to global warming, led to the loss of 25 of the 50 frog and toad species in the Montverde cloud forest of Costa Rica.

Another major threat is agriculture. Driven by poverty, population growth and land degradation, farmers clear these forests mainly for subsistence agriculture. Emphasis is now being laid on the need to maintain these forests rather than purely conserve them.

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