Climate change a threat to Costa Rican fauna, another study finds

July 11, 2008

Climate change could dramatically alter Costa Rica´s weather, habitats and animal and plant diversity, according to a new study by the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, United States.

Particularly at risk are the country´s high altitude cloud forest habitats, home to the iconic resplendent quetzal and myriad other birds, said doctoral candidate Ambarish Karmalkar, one of the heads of the study.

“Our focus is to look at what the temperature change is going to be,” Karmalkar said. “Temperature is going to get warmer. For species to find an ecosystem, they´re going to have to move upslope. For species that are already at the top of the mountains, they will have no place to go.”

Any environmental change faces a backlash from the natural world. The question is how well the plants and animals will respond to the rapid changes created by global warming, the study noted.

“You´re destroying the natural habitat,” Karmalkar said. “Any migration that happens too fast is detrimental. The current change is too fast.”

The computer model anticipates a change of three Kelvins or about five and a half degrees. The most drastic temperature changes will occur at higher elevations, compounding the problems for the cloud forests, Karmalkar said.

And the projection is likely to err on the side of caution as it is currently warmer than the projection anticipated, Karmalkar explained.

But hotter temperatures are not the only change the research uncovered. According to projections, Costa Rican ecosystems will also face a drastic change in precipitation.

“What we are really seeing in Central America is that the region is going to dry out,” Karmalkar said. “What the model shows is that there will be up to 60 percent less precipitation. You look over the region and you see that there is going to be less precipitation everywhere.”

Higher temperatures usually result in more rain, but because of the unique topography and wind patterns of the land bridge between North and South America, there will be a decrease.

During the dry season, moisture is carried by the wind from the Caribbean to the Pacific. Clouds form at high elevations on the west coast and keep the environments that require high amounts of water verdant.

“Since the temperature is going to be higher, the clouds will form at much higher elevations, especially on the Pacific,” Karmalkar said.

Karmalkar figures that the 60 percent figure the study found for decrease in precipitation is likely more than will be experienced by the area because current forecasts show less precipitation than real results. Regardless, there will be a substantial loss, he warned.

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