Restoring tropical mountain rain forests degraded by climate change: linking applied ecological research and management action in Costa Rica

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Bryan Finegan, Diego Delgado, Marie Ange Ngo Bieng, Jimena Esquivel, Byung-Bae Park, Fernando Casanoves, Darío Veintimilla, Alba Lorena Hernández Gordillo, Chan-Ryul Park, José Joaquín Calvo, Sergio Vilchez Mendoza

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Climate change will degrade currently mature tropical mountain rain forest ecosystems (TMRF; forests at >300 m asl) and their vital functions and services. Our approach to management responses to this challenge combines the principles and tools of ecological restoration with those of climate action. Here, we synthesize evidence from long-term ecological research in protected areas on a 400-3000 m asl altitudinal gradient in Costa Rica and show its application in tools requested by national authorities for strengthening adaptive capacity in TMRF management and restoration. We demonstrate high vulnerability to climate change in this landscape using a new approach to measuring ecological sensitivity in hyper diverse forest ecosystems, based on the functional traits of dominant tree species and the breadth of their altitudinal distributions. Lowland ecosystems are highly vulnerable due to the conservative functional traits and narrow altitudinal distributions of their dominant tree species. Above 2000 m asl dominant species have broad altitudinal distributions which together with positive net stand growth suggests lower vulnerability. In this landscape, temperature is the major control of ecosystem characteristics and processes under the uniformly wet climate, which models suggest will continue. Neutral processes and temperature-independent ecosystem functional properties are also important, however, while storms of increasing frequency and intensity may become key drivers of degradation. Capacity strengthening will focus on adjusted management objectives and operations for TMRF in protected areas in the framework of this evidence base, incorporating adaptation-restoration synergies and the multiple determinants of current and future TMRF ecosystem characteristics we have highlighted.

Resource Type:
Conference Presentation, SER2021

Pre-approved for CECs under SER's CERP program