The Tropical Rainforest
The Rainforest is the most species rich place on Earth and therefore an incredible resource to study ecology (= the biological study of interactions of plants and animals with each other). Costa Rica is a great place to observe such interactions in a healthy environment. But it also reveals the dangerous consequences of deforestation and further environmental threats. Although 26% of its territory are protected, Costa Rica lost about one third of its rainforest during the 20th century and rainforest protection still remains an important political issue.
Learn more about your possibility to protect Costa Rica’s forest in the section Ecotourism.
Tropical Forests can be divided into three main categories:
Lowland Dry Forest:
Lowland Moist Forest:
Highland and Cloud Forest:
Tropical rain forests cover around 7% of the earth’s land surface, but they contain more than half of its species! They occur between the tropics of Cancer and Capricorn, close to the equator.
Tropical soils are generally poorer than the ones in more temperate zones. This is because organic matter is absorbed by living plants, bacteria and fungi before it can build up the soil. As there is little sunlight on the bottom, the ground layer is sparse and most animal species are found in the canopy layer, a dense mass of treetop greenery. The struggle for light is essential in tropical forests, which one can observe already within a few weeks after dormant seeds in the soil begin to sprout.
The variety of plants is amazing. Besides huge trees and large-leaved understory plants, you will find “climbers and stranglers” – also known as vines or “lianas” – that ascend or descend along tree trunks, “epiphytes” (such as Orchids and Bromeliads) that grow on other plants without harming them and, of course, a variety of palms.
Tropical moist forests make the most extensive life zone in Costa Rica.
Corcovado National Park is home to the largest continuous undamaged primary forests in Costa Rica, but portions of intact primary forests can be found all over.
Despite of many National Parks and Protected Areas, Costa Rica still has one of the world’s highest deforestation rates (3,9%/year in 2007). The country lost about one third of its rainforests from 1950-1988. The forest mainly gave way for cattle ranches. Such pastureland further harms the ecosystem through ground compaction that impedes many plants from growing, as well as nutrient depletion and erosion. Often, monocultures like bananas, pineapples or coffee are established, which are heavily fertilized. Pesticide use is a further harmful factor – which is also a menace for groundwater.
The importance of forest preservation cannot be underrated. The tourist factor has set off many great project in Costa Rica but it is important to plan for sustainability in the future and to be vigilant at all times!
Because of its size and political stability Costa Rica has one of the highest densities of biological research and preservation programmes. If you are interested in supporting such projects visit the following websites: