In our high tech times everyone is familiar with “the cloud.” Cloud computing is standard, it’s a way to store data and keeping what we put in the cloud safe is job one for most companies. What about actual clouds though? The white puffy things that float across the sky? As it turns out, they can hold things that are precious as well, and some Australian researchers found out recently that just like our data, if something isn’t done soon, what certain clouds hold could perish and that would be a very bad thing.
Researchers from James Cook University and the Australian Tropical Herbarium have created a model of the effect climate change could have on plant species that grow in cloud forests and they have called their results “alarming.”
So what exactly is a cloud forest? Well, for one thing they exist at higher altitudes ranging anywhere from 500m to 4000m above sea level. Sometimes referred to as “fog forests” the plants that grow on hillsides and mountaintops can only grow with a heavy cloud cover, resulting in very little direct sunlight. The moisture that feeds these plants is usually in the form of “fog drop” or condensation on the leaves and branches that drips down into the soil and is not evaporated by the sun.
Dr. Craig Costion, the lead researcher, said in a press release that a majority of the plants they studied, plants that can only grow in these cloud shrouded environments, are unlikely to survive past the year 2080 because of predicted climate change at their high altitude. "They already live on mountain tops, they have no other place to go," Costion stated.
The study looked 19 different tropical plants found in cloud forests at least 1000 meters above sea level in the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area in Queensland. They ran the numbers in three different scenarios with predicted climate change data, ranging from conservative estimates to more dire outcomes.Their results shows that the climate these endemic species currently grow in could decline anywhere from 17% in the more conservative estimates to 100% in the models with more severe predictions, by the year 2040.
For the years between 2040-2060, anywhere from 8-12 of the 19 species studies could cease to exist. Pushing the data even further out to the year 2080, the models indicate that no suitable habitat will exist within the region for 84% of the species studied under any of the climate changes scenarios.
Dr. Costion stated that their findings had some limitations since they are estimates based on current data, saying in a press release issued by the university, "Our study indicates that the current climate on Queensland's mountaintops will virtually disappear. What we don't know is if these plants can adapt."
James Cook University Professor Darren Crayn, co-author of the study, stressed that while some threats to conservation areas are being reduced with good management, the threat of climate change remains significant and the area in the study is particularly vulnerable.
"The tropics contain most of the world's biodiversity, and tropical mountains are particularly rich in unique and rare species. Managing for global threats such as climate change requires much better information - a redoubling of research efforts on these poorly understood landscapes would pay great dividends."
Check out the video below to learn more about the study.
I'm a writer living in the Boston area. My interests include cancer research, cardiology and neuroscience. I want to be part of using the Internet and social media to educate professionals and patients in a collaborative environment.