Cloud forest

A cloud forest, also called a water forest and primas forest, is a generally tropical or subtropical, evergreen, montane, moist forest characterized by a persistent, frequent or seasonal low-level cloud cover, usually at the canopy level, formally described in the International Cloud Atlas (2017) as silvagenitus.[1] Cloud forests often exhibit an abundance of mosses covering the ground and vegetation, in which case they are also referred to as mossy forests. Mossy forests usually develop on the saddles of mountains, where moisture introduced by settling clouds is more effectively retained.[2]

Cloud forest mount kinabalu
Tree ferns in a cloud forest on Mount Kinabalu, Borneo

Distribution and climate

Costa rica santa elena skywalk
One of the hanging bridges of the Sky walk at the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve in Monteverde, Costa Rica disappearing into the clouds

Dependent on local climate, which is affected by the distance to the sea, the exposition and the latitude (from 23°N to 25°S), the altitude varies from 500 m to 4000 m above sea level. Typically, there is a relatively small band of altitude in which the atmospheric environment is suitable for cloud forest development. This is characterized by persistent fog at the vegetation level, resulting in the reduction of direct sunlight and thus of evapotranspiration.[3][4] Within cloud forests, much of the moisture available to plants arrives in the form of fog drip, where fog condenses on tree leaves and then drips onto the ground below.

Annual rainfall can range from 500 to 10,000 mm/year and mean temperature between 8 and 20 °C.[3][4]

While cloud forest today is the most widely used term, in some regions, these ecosystems or special types of cloud forests are called mossy forest, elfin forest, montane thicket, and dwarf cloud forest.[4]

The definition of cloud forest can be ambiguous, with many countries not using the term (preferring such terms as Afromontane forest and upper montane rain forest, montane laurel forest, or more localised terms such as the Bolivian yungas, and the laurisilva of the Atlantic Islands),[5][6] and occasionally subtropical and even temperate forests in which similar meteorological conditions occur are considered to be cloud forests.

Only 1% of the global woodland consists of cloud forests.[3]

Important areas of cloud forest are in Central and South America, East and Central Africa, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Papua-New Guinea, and in the Caribbean.[7]


Papillaria Cloudforest-Mt Budawang
Hanging moss in a cool temperate rainforest at Budawang National Park, Australia

In comparison with lower tropical moist forests, cloud forests show a reduced tree stature combined with increased stem density and generally the lower diversity of woody plants.[3][4] Trees in these regions are generally shorter and more heavily stemmed than in lower-altitude forests in the same regions, often with gnarled trunks and branches, forming dense, compact crowns. Their leaves become smaller, thicker and harder with increasing altitude.[8] The high moisture promotes the development of a high biomass and biodiversity of epiphyte, particularly bryophytes, lichens, ferns (including filmy ferns), bromeliads and orchids.[3][4] The number of endemic plants can be very high.[3]

An important feature of cloud forests is the tree crowns can intercept the wind-driven cloud moisture, part of which drips to the ground. This fog drip occurs when water droplets from the fog adhere to the needles or leaves of trees or other objects, coalesce into larger drops and then drop to the ground.[9] It can be an important contribution to the hydrologic cycle.[4]

Due to the high water content of the soil, the reduced solar radiation and the low rates of decomposition and mineralization, the soil acidity is very high,[4][10][11] with more humus and peat often forming the upper soil layer.[4]

Stadtmüller (1987) distinguishes two general types of tropical montane cloud forests:

  • Areas with a high annual precipitation due to a frequent cloud cover in combination with heavy and sometimes persistent orographic rainfall; such forests have a perceptible canopy strata, a high number of epiphytes, and a thick peat layer which has a high storage capacity for water and controls the runoff;
  • In drier areas with mainly seasonal rainfall, cloud stripping can amount to a large proportion of the moisture available to plants.

Temperate cloud forests

Although far from being universally accepted as true cloud forests, several forests in temperate regions have strong similarities with tropical cloud forests. The term is further confused by occasional reference to cloud forests in tropical countries as "temperate" due to the cooler climate associated with these misty forests.

Forest Los Tilos
Temperate cloud forest on La Palma, Canary Islands

Distribution of temperate cloud forests


DirkvdM cloudforest
At the edge of the Panamanian side of the Parque Internacional la Amistad
  • Watershed function: Because of the cloud-stripping strategy, the effective rainfall can be doubled in dry seasons and increase the wet season rainfall by about 10%.[12][6] Experiments of Costin and Wimbush (1961) showed that the tree canopies of non-cloud forests intercept and evaporate 20 percent more of the precipitation than cloud forests, which means a loss to the land component of the hydrological cycle.
  • Vegetation: Tropical montane cloud forests are not as species-rich as tropical lowland forests, but they provide the habitats for many species found nowhere else.[13][6] For example, the Cerro de la Neblina, a cloud-covered mountain in the south of Venezuela, accommodates many shrubs, orchids, and insectivorous plants which are restricted to this mountain only.[13]
  • Fauna: The endemism in animals is also very high. In Peru, more than one-third of the 270 endemic birds, mammals, and frogs are found in cloud forests.[13] One of the best-known cloud forest mammals is the mountain gorilla (Gorilla b. beringei). Many of those endemic animals have important functions, such as seed dispersal and forest dynamics in these ecosystems.[4]

Current situation

Nimbosilva de Fray Jorge
Seaborne moisture is vital to the cloud forest of Fray Jorge that is surrounded by the arid southern reaches of the Atacama Desert.

In 1970, the original extent of cloud forests on the Earth was around 50 million hectares. Population growth, poverty and uncontrolled land use have contributed to the loss of cloud forests. The 1990 Global Forest Survey found that 1.1% of tropical mountain and highland forests were lost each year, which was higher than in any other tropical forests.[13] In Colombia, one of the countries with the largest area of cloud forests, only 10–20% of the initial cloud forest cover remains.[3] Significant areas have been converted to plantations, or for use in agriculture and pasture. Significant crops in montane forest zones include tea and coffee, and the logging of unique species causes changes to the forest structure.[4]

In 2004, an estimated one-third of all cloud forests on the planet were protected at that time.[14]

Impact of climate change

Because of their delicate dependency on local climates, cloud forests will be strongly affected by global climate change. Results show that the extent of environmentally suitable areas for cloud forest in Mexico will sharply decline in the next 70 years.[15] A number of climate models suggest low-altitude cloudiness will be reduced, which means the optimum climate for many cloud forest habitats will increase in altitude.[16][17] Linked to the reduction of cloud moisture immersion and increasing temperature, the hydrological cycle will change, so the system will dry out.[17] This would lead to the wilting and the death of epiphytes, which rely on high humidity.[16] Frogs and lizards are expected to suffer from increased drought.[17] Calculations suggest the loss of cloud forest in Mexico would lead to extinction of up to 37 vertebrates specific to that region.[18] In addition, climate changes can result in a higher number of hurricanes, which may increase damage to tropical montane cloud forests. All in all, the results of climate change will be a loss in biodiversity, altitude shifts in species ranges and community reshuffling, and, in some areas, complete loss of cloud forests.[16]

In botanical gardens

Cloud-forest conditions are hard and expensive to replicate in a glasshouse because it is necessary to maintain a very high humidity. This is usually expensive as a high temperature must usually be maintained as well, and a high temperature combined with high humidity calls for good air circulation or else fungi and algae will develop. Such displays usually are quite small, but there are some notable exceptions. For many years, the Singapore Botanic Gardens have a so-called coolhouse, whereas the Gardens by the Bay features a 0.8 hectares (2.0 acres) coolhouse that is simply named "Cloud Forest". The latter features a 35-metre (115 ft)-high artificial mountain clad in epiphytes such as orchids, ferns, clubmosses, bromeliads and others.[19]


  1. ^ Sutherland, Scott (March 23, 2017). "Cloud Atlas leaps into 21st century with 12 new cloud types". The Weather Network. Pelmorex Media. Retrieved 24 March 2017.
  2. ^ Clarke 1997, p. 29.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Häger 2006, p. .
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Hamilton, Juvik & Scatena 1995.
  5. ^ García-Santos, Bruijnzeel & Dolman 2009.
  6. ^ a b c García-Santos 2007, p. .
  7. ^ "Resources Data - UNEP-WCMC".
  8. ^ Bruijnzeel & Proctor 1995 quote from Hamilton, Juvik & Scatena 1995
  9. ^ "Fog drip - AMS Glossary". American Meteorological Society. Retrieved 2014-12-15.
  10. ^ van Steenis 1972, p. .
  11. ^ Grubb & Tanner 1976.
  12. ^ Vogelmann 1973 and Bruijnzeel 1990, p.  quote by Hamilton, Juvik & Scatena 1995
  13. ^ a b c d Bruijnzeel & Hamilton 2000, p. .
  14. ^ Kappelle 2004 quote by Häger 2006, p. 
  15. ^ Ponce-Reyes et al. 2013.
  16. ^ a b c Foster 2001.
  17. ^ a b c Bubb et al. 2004, p. .
  18. ^ Ponce-Reyes et al. 2012.
  19. ^ "Cloud Forest Facts and Figures".


  • Bruijnzeel, L. A. (1990). Hydrology of Moist Tropical Forests and Effects of Conversion: A State of Knowledge Review. OCLC 222853422.
  • Bruijnzeel, L.A.; Hamilton, L.S. (2000). Decision Time For Cloud Forests: Water-Related Issues And Problems Of The Humid Tropics And Other Warm Humid Regions. Paris, France: UNESCO's IHP Humid Tropics Programme Series No.13.
  • Bruijnzeel, L. A; Proctor, J (1995). "Hydrology and Biogeochemistry of Tropical Montane Cloud Forests: What Do We Really Know?". In Hamilton, Lawrence S.; Juvik, James O.; Scatena, F. N. (eds.). Tropical Montane Cloud Forests. Ecological Studies. 110. pp. 38–78. doi:10.1007/978-1-4612-2500-3_3. ISBN 978-1-4612-7564-0.
  • Bubb, Philip; May, Ian; Miles, Lera; Sayer, Jeff (2004). Cloud Forest Agenda. ISBN 92-807-2399-5.
  • Foster, Pru (2001). "The potential negative impacts of global climate change on tropical montane cloud forests". Earth-Science Reviews. 55 (1–2): 73–106. Bibcode:2001ESRv...55...73F. doi:10.1016/S0012-8252(01)00056-3.
  • Clarke, Charles (1997). Nepenthes of Borneo. ISBN 978-983-812-015-9.
  • García-Santos, G; Marzol, M. V; Aschan, G (2004). "Water dynamics in a laurel montane cloud forest in the Garajonay National Park (Canary Islands, Spain)". Hydrology and Earth System Sciences. 8 (6): 1065–75. Bibcode:2004HESS....8.1065G.
  • García-Santos, G. (2007). An ecohydrological and soils study in a montane cloud forest in the National Park of Garajonay, La Gomera (Canary Islands, Spain) (PhD Thesis). hdl:1871/12697.
  • García-Santos, G; Bruijnzeel, L.A; Dolman, A.J (2009). "Modelling canopy conductance under wet and dry conditions in a subtropical cloud forest". Agricultural and Forest Meteorology. 149 (10): 1565–72. Bibcode:2009AgFM..149.1565G. doi:10.1016/j.agrformet.2009.03.008.
  • Grubb, PJ; Tanner, EVJ (July 1976). "The montane forests and soils of Jamaica: a reassessment". Journal of the Arnold Arboretum. 57 (3): 313–68. JSTOR 43794514.
  • Häger, Achim (2006). Einfluss von Klima und Topographie auf Struktur, Zusammensetzung und Dynamik eines tropischen Wolkenwaldes in Monteverde, Costa Rica [Influence of climate and topography on the structure, composition and dynamics of a tropical cloud forest in Monteverde, Costa Rica] (Disssertation) (in German). hdl:11858/00-1735-0000-0006-B0EE-1.
  • Hamilton, Lawrence S; Juvik, James O; Scatena, F. N (1995). "The Puerto Rico Tropical Cloud Forest Symposium: Introduction and Workshop Synthesis". In Hamilton, Lawrence S.; Juvik, James O.; Scatena, F. N. (eds.). Tropical Montane Cloud Forests. Ecological Studies. 110. pp. 1–18. doi:10.1007/978-1-4612-2500-3_1. ISBN 978-1-4612-7564-0.
  • Kappelle, M (2004). "Tropical Montane Forests". In Burley, Jeffery (ed.). Encyclopedia of Forest Sciences. pp. 1782–92. doi:10.1016/B0-12-145160-7/00175-7. ISBN 978-0-12-145160-8.
  • Ponce-Reyes, Rocío; Reynoso-Rosales, Víctor-Hugo; Watson, James E. M; Vanderwal, Jeremy; Fuller, Richard A; Pressey, Robert L; Possingham, Hugh P (2012). "Vulnerability of cloud forest reserves in Mexico to climate change". Nature Climate Change. 2 (6): 448–52. Bibcode:2012NatCC...2..448P. doi:10.1038/nclimate1453.
  • Ponce-Reyes, Rocio; Nicholson, Emily; Baxter, Peter W. J; Fuller, Richard A; Possingham, Hugh (2013). "Extinction risk in cloud forest fragments under climate change and habitat loss". Diversity and Distributions. 19 (5–6): 518–29. doi:10.1111/ddi.12064.
  • van Steenis, Cornelis Gijsbert Gerrit Jan (1972). The Mountain Flora of Java. Brill. OCLC 741884105.
  • Vogelmann, H. W (1973). "Fog Precipitation in the Cloud Forests of Eastern Mexico". BioScience. 23 (2): 96–100. doi:10.2307/1296569. JSTOR 1296569.

External links

Cloud-forest pygmy owl

The cloud-forest pygmy owl (Glaucidium nubicola) is a short, muscular, small-sized species of owl found throughout the Andes of western Colombia and north-western Ecuador, being confined to cloud forests between 900–2000 m a.s.l. Below this altitudinal range the Central American pygmy owl (Glaucidium griseiceps) occurs; above it, the Andean pygmy owl (Glaucidium jardinii) occurs.Its epithet nubicola is Latin for “cloud-inhabiting”, because this species is restricted to very humid cloud forests.

Cloud-forest screech owl

The cloud-forest screech owl (Megascops marshalli) is a species of owl in the family Strigidae.

It is found in Bolivia and Peru.

Its natural habitat is subtropical or tropical moist montane forests.

It's potentially vulnerable or at risk due to habitat loss.

Cloud forest grass mouse

The cloud forest grass mouse (Akodon torques) is a species of rodent in the family Cricetidae.

It is found only in Peru.

Gardens by the Bay

Gardens by the Bay is a nature park spanning 101 hectares (250 acres) of reclaimed land in the Central Region of Singapore, adjacent to the Marina Reservoir. The park consists of three waterfront gardens: Bay South Garden (in Marina South), Bay East Garden (in Marina East) and Bay Central Garden (in Downtown Core and Kallang). The largest of the gardens is Bay South Garden at 54 hectares (130 acres) designed by Grant Associates. Its Flower Dome is the largest glass greenhouse in the world.Gardens by the Bay is part of the nation's plans to transform its "Garden City" to a "City in a Garden", with the aim of raising the quality of life by enhancing greenery and flora in the city. First announced by the Prime Minister, Lee Hsien Loong, at the National Day Rally in 2005, Gardens by the Bay was intended to be Singapore's premier urban outdoor recreation space, and a national icon.

Being one of the popular tourist attractions in Singapore, the park received 6.4 million visitors in 2014, while topping its 20 millionth visitor mark in November 2015.

Grizzled Mexican small-eared shrew

The grizzled Mexican small-eared shrew (Cryptotis obscura) is a small mammal in the order Eulipotyphla. It is native in Mexican highlands. It can be found in dense, wet cloud forest, where it is found in the thick herbaceous undergrowth and leaf litter. It is known to be insectivorous and terrestrial.

Threats to the species are deforestation for agriculture and urban development.

Handleyomys saturatior

Handleyomys saturatior, also known as the cloud forest oryzomys or cloud forest rice rat, is a species of rodent in the genus Handleyomys of family Cricetidae.

It is found in Belize, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, and Nicaragua in cloud forest at elevations from 750 to 2500 m. It was previously placed in the genus Oryzomys.


With a height of 1,394 metres (4,573 ft), Maderas is the smaller of the two volcanoes which make up the island of Ometepe, situated in Lake Nicaragua in Nicaragua, Central America. Unlike Concepción, the other volcano on the island, Maderas has not been active in historical times. Its crater contains a crater lake.

The slopes of Maderas are one of the few places on the Pacific side of Nicaragua where cloud forest grows. The only other place where this is found is at the Mombacho volcano. Cloud forests are characterized by a rich plant and animal life, made possible by the high levels of humidity in the climate. Prehistoric petroglyphs have been found at the Maderas volcano.

Climbing to the top of the volcano is a popular tourist activity. Tourists are strongly encouraged by local guiding companies to hire a guide, but the trail from the common starting point at Finca Magdalena is obvious the entire way to the top. The hike to the top of the crater can be difficult, with steep inclines that get muddy when it rains. It rains often on Ometepe Island, so a slippery climb is likely, even in the dry season. The round trip hike takes between 6 and 9 hours and changes from dry forest to humid forest to cloud forest. There are a number of interesting species that dwell on the volcano, including the white-faced monkey, mountain crab, howler monkeys, and a number of butterflies including the well-known blue morphos.


Monteverde, Costa Rica is a small community in Puntarenas, Costa Rica, located in the Cordillera de Tilarán mountain range. Roughly a four-hour drive from the Central Valley, Monteverde is one of the country's major ecotourism destinations. The area is host to the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve and several other natural attractions, which draw considerable numbers of tourists and naturalists.

National Geographic has called the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve "the jewel in the crown of cloud forest reserves". Newsweek has declared Monteverde the world's #14 "Place to Remember Before it Disappears". By popular vote in Costa Rica, Monteverde was deemed one of the Seven Natural Wonders of Costa Rica, along with Isla del Coco, Volcán Arenal, Cerro Chirripó, Río Celeste, Tortuguero, and Volcán Poás.This article deals with Monteverde and its surrounding zone. This includes Santa Elena, the area's largest town and tourist hub, as well as the nearby cluster of homes and businesses known as Cerro Plano, the community of Monteverde, and numerous reserves and attractions in the wider region.

Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve

The Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve (Reserva Biológica Bosque Nuboso Monteverde) is a Costa Rican reserve located along the Cordillera de Tilarán within the Puntarenas and Alajuela provinces. Named after the nearby town of Monteverde and founded in 1972, the Reserve consists of over 10,500 hectares (26,000 acres) of cloud forest, the reserve is visited by roughly 70,000 visitors a year. The Reserve consists of 6 ecological zones, 90% of which are virgin forest. An extremely high biodiversity, consisting of over 2,500 plant species (including the most orchid species in a single place), 100 species of mammals, 400 bird species, 120 reptilian and amphibian species, and thousands of insects, has drawn both scientists and tourists alike.

Mount Bartle Frere

Mount Bartle Frere (pronunciation [ˈmæɔnt̥ ˈbɐːɾəɫ ˈfɹɪə]) is the highest mountain in Queensland at an elevation of 1,611 metres (5,285 ft). The mountain was named after Sir Henry Bartle Frere, a British colonial administrator and then president of the Royal Geographical Society by George Elphinstone Dalrymple in 1873. Bartle Frere was British Governor of Cape Colony at the outset of the Zulu Wars. The Aboriginal name for the mountain is Chooreechillum.

It is located 51 km south of Cairns in the Wooroonooran National Park southwest of the town of Babinda on the eastern edge of the Atherton Tablelands. Mount Bartle Frere is part of the Bellenden Ker Range and the watershed of Russell River.

The foothill to summit is entirely covered by rainforest, ranging from typical tropical rainforest in the lowlands to low cloud forest at the cooler summit, where temperatures are up to 10 °C (18 °F) lower than on the coast. Despite the treacherous climb, reaching the top offers an expansive view of the surrounding area.

Mount Gower

Mount Gower also Big Hill, is the highest mountain on Australia’s subtropical Lord Howe Island in the Tasman Sea. With a height of 875 metres (2,871 ft) above sea level, and a relatively flat 27-hectare (67-acre) summit plateau, it stands at the southern end of Lord Howe, just south of the island’s second highest peak, the 777-metre (2,549 ft) high Mount Lidgbird, from which it is separated by the saddle at the head of Erskine Valley.

Ascending Gower entails a popular, guided, strenuous 8-hour return hike, though no special climbing skills are needed. The mountain is covered with rainforest, including cloud forest at the summit, containing many of the island’s endemic plants.

Mount Royal Range

The Mount Royal Range is a mountain range in the Hunter region of New South Wales, Australia.

Mountain robin

The mountain robin, subalpine robin, alpine robin, or cloud-forest robin (Petroica bivittata) is a species of bird in the family Petroicidae. It is found sparsely throughout the New Guinea Highlands.Its natural habitat is subtropical or tropical moist montane forests.


The olinguito , Bassaricyon neblina, is a mammal of the raccoon family Procyonidae that lives in montane forests in the Andes of western Colombia and Ecuador. The species was described as new in 2013. The species name neblina is Spanish for fog or mist, referring to the cloud forest habitat of the olinguito.On 22 May 2014 the International Institute for Species Exploration declared the olinguito as one of the "Top 10 New Species of 2014" among species discovered in 2013. It is the first new carnivoran mammal described in the Western Hemisphere in 35 years.

Pale-footed swallow

The pale-footed swallow (Notiochelidon flavipes) is a species of bird in the family Hirundinidae. It is found in the northern Andes, from Venezuela to Bolivia. It is monotypic.

Its natural habitat is subtropical or tropical moist montane forests. They are usually seen in small flocks, occasionally with the blue-and-white swallow.

They are classified as a least-concern species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Selva Negra Cloud Forest Reserve

Selva Negra Cloud Forest Reserve is a nature reserve in Nicaragua. It is one of the 78 reserves which are officially under protection in the country.

The Jim Henson Hour

The Jim Henson Hour is a television series that aired on NBC in 1989. It was developed as a showcase for The Jim Henson Company's various puppet creations, including the Muppet characters.

Nine of the twelve episodes produced aired on NBC before the program was canceled. Two episodes later aired on Nickelodeon in 1992 and 1993, and the final episode never aired in the US, but did air in the UK in 1990.

Yarigui people

The Yariguí people were an indigenous Colombian tribe that gave their name to a mountainous area they once inhabited in the Andean cloud forest. It has been said that they committed mass suicide instead of submitting to Spanish colonial rule.

Yellow-breasted brush finch

For the bird alternatively named rufous-naped brush finch (Atlapetes rufinucha), see Bolivian brush finch.

The yellow-breasted brush finch (Atlapetes latinuchus), also known as the cloud-forest brush finch, is a species of bird in the family Passerellidae. It is sometimes considered a subspecies of Atlapetes rufinucha.

It is found in forest and woodland in the Andean highlands of northern Peru, through Ecuador and Colombia, to far western Venezuela. It is generally common, and therefore considered to be of least concern by BirdLife International. A new subspecies, A. l. yariguierum, was described in 2006 from Serranía de los Yariguíes in Colombia.

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