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The importance of canopy microclimate in cloud forests

When you delve into the many layers of tropical montane cloud forests, you'll discover how this unique ecosystem depends upon complex relationships between water, humidity and moss.

Cloud forest, growing up to 3000 m elevetation, is home to an incredible number of rare and endemic species and a provider of essential resources such as water. The forest creates its own climate for species to survive. However, it is also highly threatened by deforestation, rising temperatures and changes in cloud cover.

Today only a few percent of Ecuador’s Pacific slope forest remains.

The images below illustrate the contrast between a tree inside its cloud forest microclimate and one exposed by deforestation.

A mossy sub-canopy

Neblina Reserve, Ecuador

Here the trees are covered in green moss that regulates humidity and allows a wealth of epiphytes so typical of cloud forest. The micro-climate is constantly damp from humidity generated by plants and retained after rain by the encompassing forest. Here ferns, aroids, lichens, orchids and even Bomarea and Compositae lianas thrive. The temperature is cool and moderated which keeps spectacled bears happy with lots to eat – here at 3000 m they love bamboos and bromeliads!

Bromeliad, overexposed to sun

Bu contrast the above photo was taken of a tree with surrounding cloud forest cleared, leaving the tree exposed and hot, without temperature regulation. Here the bromeliad is trying to protect itself from exposure to sun with red pigmentation, ferns and lianas have died; the humidity-regulating moss and lichens are dead, leaving only exposed Pleurothallis and Stelis orchids. Even the branches of the host tree succumb, as the nutrients, supplied by branch roots (only recently discovered growing into the epiphytic moss), are cut off. The stressed tree will die unless the forest is allowed to return around it.