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Submitted by on Feb 19, 2020
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A cloud forest, also called a water forest, primas forest, or tropical montane cloud forest (TMCF), is a generally tropical or subtropical, evergreen, montane, moist forest characterized by a persistent, frequent or seasonal low-level cloud cover, usually at the canopy level, formally described in the International Cloud Atlas (2017) as silvagenitus.

Cloud forests often exhibit an abundance of mosses covering the ground and vegetation, in which case they are also referred to as mossy forests. Mossy forests usually develop on the saddles of mountains, where moisture introduced by settling clouds is more effectively retained.

Dependent on local climate, which is affected by the distance to the sea, the exposition and the latitude (from 23°N to 25°S), the altitude varies from 500 m to 4000 m above sea level. Typically, there is a relatively small band of altitude in which the atmospheric environment is suitable for cloud forest development.

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This is characterized by persistent fog at the vegetation level, resulting in the reduction of direct sunlight and thus of evapotranspiration. Within cloud forests, much of the moisture available to plants arrives in the form of fog drip, where fog condenses on tree leaves and then drips onto the ground below.

Annual rainfall can range from 500 to 10,000 mm/year and mean temperature between 8 and 20 °C.

While cloud forest today is the most widely used term, in some regions, these ecosystems or special types of cloud forests are called mossy forest, elfin forest, montane thicket, and dwarf cloud forest.

The definition of cloud forest can be ambiguous, with many countries not using the term (preferring such terms as Afromontane forest and upper montane rain forest, montane laurel forest, or more localised terms such as the Bolivian yungas, and the laurisilva of the Atlantic Islands), and occasionally subtropical and even temperate forests in which similar meteorological conditions occur are considered to be cloud forests.

Only 1% of the global woodland consists of cloud forests. They previously comprised an estimated 11% of all tropical forests in the 1970s. A total of around 736 cloud forest sites have been identified in 59 countries by the World Conservation Monitoring Centre, with 327 of them legally protected areas as of 2002.

Important areas of cloud forest are in Central and South America (mainly Venezuela, Mexico, Ecuador, and Colombia), East and Central Africa, India, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Hawaii, Papua New Guinea, and in the Caribbean.

Although far from being universally accepted as true cloud forests, several forests in temperate regions have strong similarities with tropical cloud forests. The term is further confused by occasional reference to cloud forests in tropical countries as “temperate” due to the cooler climate associated with these misty forests.

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