Painting by Julia Loman

Cloud forests: how magical they sound! I picture tall trees swirling with clouds, or perhaps trees floating on clouds…My curiosity has percolated long enough that I simply must find out about these forests. As I learn about the many rainforest ecosystems and their flora and fauna, I keep coming across cloud forests. The term is casually mentioned, but my internal reaction is always: wait… what IS a cloud forest?

Perhaps you are also curious! I set out to learn more about cloud forests, and found them to be just as intriguing and nearly as magical as they first sounded to me.

Cloud forests don’t float on clouds, of course, but situated on coastal mountains and swirling with mist, they come as close as it gets.

Photo by Adrian Tejedor, 2011

A cloud forest is a forest with very high humidity- usually at or close to 100%. This means the whole forest is cloaked in fog.

Cloud forests form where moist air from the ocean reaches the coast at a high elevation. Clouds condense on plants in the forest through a process called lateral cloud filtration, which accounts for some of the precipitation in these forests, in addition to heavy rainfall [1]. At close to 100% humidity, the whole forest is dense with clouds and fog. The coastal mountains of Peru and Ecuador in the Amazon contain the ideal conditions for cloud forests to occur.

Photo by Adrian Tejedor, 2006

About 1% of the world’s forests are cloud forests, and they cover only an estimated 0.14% of the earth’s land [2]. However, they are not just rare ecosystems. Because they contain a combination of conditions of temperature, altitude, and humidity that is scarce and often very isolated, there are many plants and animals that are only found in a single, small cloud forest!

Clearly, with such incredible biodiversity and amazing, beautiful land, cloud forests should be a top priority for conservation! However, these fragile ecosystems face many threats. Poverty in Latin American countries drives deforestation of cloud forests for crop farming, livestock grazing, and mining [3]. Many fruits and vegetables that are grown on the cleared land are sold in the United States, including coffee- one of the major crops for which cloud forests are destroyed! I was shocked: this daily habit for so many of us has a devastating impact on some of the most wonderful land on the planet.

The changing climate also heavily impacts cloud forests. As the temperature rises, ecosystems that thrive at lower altitudes begin to take over cloud forests, which move into the smaller areas at higher altitudes. Extreme weather caused by climate change can also disrupt the balance of humidity and temperature that is so crucial to these habitats. [3]

As I learn about cloud forests, I’ve become even more amazed by them, and convinced that they are so important to protect! If you want to learn more about cloud forests, check out these Amazon Aid blog posts:

Climate change threatens Andean cloud forests

New mammal species discovered in Andean cloud forests

Beautiful butterflies of Wayqecha (contains a video!)

Visit Amazon Aid’s Acre Care and Reforestation projects for ways you can take action to protect the Amazon Rainforest, home to some of the world’s incredible cloud forests!


[1] “Cloud Forest.” n.d. Community Cloud Forest Conservation. http://www.cloudforestconservation.org/cloud_forest/

[2] “An introduction to tropical montane cloud forests.” 2010. Canopy in the Clouds. http://www.canopyintheclouds.com/learn/

[3] Bubb, P. 2004. “Cloud Forest Agenda.” OurPlanet UNEP-WCMC. http://www.ourplanet.com/wcmc/pdfs/cloudforests.pdf