Mar 27

According to new research, Mexico is at risk of losing a substantial portion of its cloud forest to climate change over the next few decades.

Black-handed spider monkey image

The Endangered black-handed spider monkey is found in Mexico's cloud forests

Cloud forests at risk

The results of this new research, published in Nature Climate Change, indicate that Mexico could lose almost 70% of its cloud forest by 2080 due to the effects of global climate change. These findings may also have implications for cloud forests worldwide.

Cloud forests are unique ecosystems, typically defined as being tropical forests growing at an altitude of more than about 2,500 to 3,000 metres. These forests obtain the majority of their moisture from fog, and are home to a wide variety of species which are not found anywhere else, including certain species of orchid, hummingbird and amphibian.

Rocio Ponce-Reyes, lead author of the study from the ARC Center of Excellence for Environmental Decisions (CEED) and The University of Queensland, explains her fears for these species-rich ecosystems, “Given the narrow environmental tolerance of cloud forests, the fear is that human-induced climate change could constitute an even greater peril [than deforestation] in the near future.”

Yellow-blotched palm-pitviper image

The yellow-blotched palm-pitviper, another cloud forest species, is classified as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List

Double trouble for biodiversity

Researchers discovered that rising temperatures and changing climatic conditions could potentially destroy 11,685 square kilometres of cloud forest in Mexico alone, which equates to 69% of the country’s total cloud forest cover.

Yet unfortunately the bad news does not stop there for this unique ecosystem. The majority of Mexico’s cloud forest (88%) remains unprotected, which means that it is incredibly vulnerable to deforestation and degradation. The great worry is that if the unprotected forests are cleared and climate change simultaneously impacts the remaining areas of forest as predicted, Mexico could lose a massive 99% of its cloud forest, as well as most of its species.

Researchers are calling for immediate action to protect those cloud forests which are deemed to be the most resilient to the impacts of climate change, such as the Sierra de Juárez which is known to house 22 of Mexico’s most threatened species. “At present only about 12 percent of Mexico’s cloud forest is protected – and it is not clear how effective that protection will be by the latter part of this century,” says Ms Ponce-Reyes.

Horned guan image

The horned guan is an Endangered cloud forest species

Wider implications

Although the recent study focuses on Mexico, the startling results have global implications, raising questions about the future status of cloud forests in other areas such as Central America, South America, sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia and the Malay Archipelago.

Cloud forests remain largely unstudied by researchers, despite harbouring a wealth of endemic and undiscovered species, and unfortunately these rich ecosystems are now rapidly disappearing as a result of logging and deforestation for agricultural land.

The research scientists highlight that their results have produced a stark warning for the future, “If bold measures are not taken very soon to reduce the concentration of greenhouse gases, these forests are unlikely to survive in their present form, with anything near their present diversity, very far into the twenty-first century.”

Read more on this story at Mongabay.com – Cloud forests may be particularly vulnerable to climate change.

Learn more about climate change on ARKive.

Explore species found in Mexico on ARKive.

Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Species Text Author

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