Cloud Forest in Ecuador

Busy forest life

Busy forest life

Note: this blog is an introduction and will deal with the forest as a whole, the general impression of it, I hope to write future blogs about specific aspects, such as orchids, fungi, diseases etc, and here is a separate blog page I posted about insects and animals.

I took a recent trip to a cloud forest in the mountains of Ecuador, working at a research centre called Los Cedros. While there I was able to take many hikes out into the forest, taking photos and trying to understand how the forest worked as a system.

Cloud inside the forest

Cloud inside the forest

A cloud forest is a type of rainforest, but at a higher altitude and therefore cooler and with a frequent covering of cloud. During the day, the cloud could be seen moving through the forest, like mist, and up and down the mountain.

Cloud moving down the mountain

Cloud moving down the mountain

The plants in a cloud forest and a rain forest are similar, with the same high species diversity, the same density of plants and the same complex interaction between plants, animals and fungi.

Trees

Aerial roots hang down from a tree (3 vertical white lines)

Aerial roots hang down from a tree (3 vertical white lines)

The majority of the trees were very tall, very thin, with no branching until reaching the top of the canopy, this is typical of the rainforest. The forest was always dark because the canopy was so dense and so leaves were concentrated as high up as possible where they could reach the light (what looks like white sky behind the trees is actually misty cloud between them). Lianas and aerial roots hung down between the trees.

Tree ferns with a backdrop of mist

Tree ferns with a backdrop of mist

Among the trees were tree ferns, palms, strangler figs and walking trees.

Epiphytes and Climbers

Epiphytes

Epiphytes

Aroid in tree top

Wall of climbers next to a path

Wall of climbers next to a path

Trees were covered in plants, some were climbers, such as Philodendron, others were epiphytes that grew around the trunks of trees, using moss as an anchor, these were mostly orchids, bromeliads and ferns. Epiphytes grow high in order to use the increased light in the canopy layer, they have a number of methods to gain nutrients and water, normally provided by the soil. For example, bromeliads have stiff leaves that form a cup at the centre, water collects in this cup and insects defecate and drown in it, leading to a release of nutrients.

Bromeliads

Bromeliads

Orchid in tree

Orchid in tree

Mosses and Lichens

Moss, lichens and epiphytic ferns

Moss, lichens and epiphytic ferns covering tree branches

Mosses were abundant, covering leaves and trunks, they were virulent and colourful. Some more detail on mosses is here.

Moss and lichen

Moss and lichen

Moss growing on leaf

Moss growing on leaf and stem

Ground Cover

Leafy ground cover

Leafy ground cover

Mostly the forest floor was covered in leaves, thick plasticky leaves, a little like cherry laurel. The soil in rainforest is thin and low in nutrients, this is because there are so many organisms with cunning ways of exploiting death, snatching plant and animals corpses before they reach the soil. There is also very little light on the forest floor, perhaps as low as 2%, however, there were some plants that managed to grow and thrive.

Kohleria villosa

Kohleria villosa

Blechnum fern

Blechnum fern

Stellaria media (chickweed) and Plantago major (greater plantain) are both familiar weeds in England that have been introduced to the area, presumably by accident, and I found them growing wherever the forest had been cut back.

Plantago major (greater plantain)

Plantago major (greater plantain)

Diseases

Partially decayed, but still attached leaf

Partially decayed, but still attached leaf

Warm, humid conditions are ideal for many diseases, add to that the large number of insects and parasitic plants and fungi, meant that most plants were damaged extensively. Non native trees, such as citrus, were the most affected, so presumably the native plants have built up some resistance, but the forest was still filled with diseases and decay.

Fresh new growth on a diseased tree

Fresh new growth on a diseased fruit tree

Diseased orchid leaf

Diseased orchid leaf

Dilapidated leaves

Dilapidated leaves

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