Species dying out as clouds evaporate

SCORES OF animals are close to extinction because the cloud forests of central America are being destroyed through climate change.

A study of the endangered Monteverde highlands of Costa Rica has revealed that rising temperatures are causing the moisture-laden mists to disappear. Already, 20 out of 50 species of frog and toad are believed to have perished.

Cloud forests are some of the world's most delicate ecosystems. They occur in the tropics when fine mists linger for weeks at a time over highland areas to create verdant hillsides rich in animals and plants.

Scientists believe that many species of amphibians and reptiles, unique to the area, are already extinct. One species endemic to Costa Rica, the golden toad, has not been seen for more than 10 years.

Alan Pounds, a researcher at the Monteverde Cloud Forest Preserve and Tropical Science Centre in Puntarenas, said the mysterious demise of so many species over such a short period of time can be linked with the decline in cloud cover at lower altitudes. The research team has also found that rising sea temperatures in the Pacific Ocean over the past 20 years appear to have pushed the mists in the Monteverde to higher-than- normal altitudes, starving the lower slopes of moisture.

Although a warmer ocean increases evaporation and causes more clouds to form, the temperature rise has meant that the clouds are more sparse over tropical mountain forests, Dr Pounds said.

The study found that the frequency of mists occurring at weather stations on the mountains over the past 20 years had declined, whereas temperature records for the same period showed the same amount of cloud cover - indicating it had not disappeared completely but formed instead on the higher slopes.

"Monteverde has become cloudier, yet drier. It's a paradox that can be explained by the clouds being higher," he said.

The heights at which the mists form fluctuate widely, but Dr Pounds says that rough estimates suggest that they may have risen by up to 200 metres - enough to destroy the delicately balanced habitats of cloud-forest animals.

Rising sea-surface temperatures, which are linked with global warming rather than with the El Nino ocean current, are probably behind the change, he added. "There's a real risk that if climate change continues on its present course we may indeed lose cloud forests. They are important areas for endemic species, because cloud forests contain species that exist no where else in the world."

Tim Halliday, a biologist at the Open University and director of the international task force set up to monitor the demise of amphibian species, said frogs and toads are particularly susceptible to outbreaks of disease - such as fungal attacks - when climate change forces them to group together near the dwindling water holes.

Since 1987, the Monteverde team has monitored the disappearance of 20 species of frogs and toads, including the red-eyed stream frog, rain frogs, treefrogs and the emerald glass frog.

However, other species of reptiles and birds have also been affected, Dr Halliday said. "Populations of forest lizards called anoles have disappeared in much the same way as amphibian populations.

"Because the fungi which infect the moist skins of frogs, toads and salamanders are unlikely to attack reptiles, climate change, rather than a particular disease organism, may be the common denominator in the declines," he said.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
musicBand's first new record for 20 years has some tough acts to follow
News
Shoppers in Covent Garden, London, celebrate after they were the first to buy the iPhone 6, released yesterday
tech
News
Liam Payne has attacked the media for reporting his tweet of support to Willie Robertson and the subsequent backlash from fans
peopleBut One Direction star insists he is not homophobic
Life and Style
healthFor Pure-O OCD sufferers this is a reality they live in
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvSeries 5 opening episode attracts lowest ratings since drama began
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Teaching Assistants needed in Salford

£12000 - £14400 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: Are you an...

Trainee Recruitment Consultants - Banking & Finance

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000: SThree: SThree Group have been well e...

Teaching Assistants needed in Wigan

£12000 - £14400 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: Are you an...

Biology Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Bristol: Biology Teacher for fixed term contrac...

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments