Monteverde: Zona of Life
Due to the climate and terrain conditions, the Cordillera de Tilarán encompasses great variety in environmental conditions, consequently having various types of vegetation.
In the Pacific slope, under 1,000 m. above sea level, the landscape is made up of farms with only small patches of forest, mainly at the edge of creeks and rivers.
Pacific slope seasonal forest:
It extends from 700 to 1,500 m above sea level with an annual precipitation of 2,000 to 2,500 mm and a 5 to 6-month dry season. The forest is chiefly evergreen with some deciduous species that remain leafless for 1 to 3 months. Less than 10% of the forest canopy stays without leaves during the dry season. This forest is 25 to 40 meters high. The area includes the life zones of Montane moist forest and Premontane wet forests along with small extensions of moist forest.
The majority of the area above 1,500 m from the Pacific slope to the continental divide and until the 1,300-1,400 m of the Caribbean side level has an exuberating cloud forest.
With an annual precipitation of 2,500-3,500 mm and covered of clouds and mist, frequent in the dry season, this evergreen forest remains humid throughout the whole year. Canopy height varies from 20-40 m in protected areas to 5-10 m in the dwarf forest of the peaks and crests exposed to the northeastern trade winds. The habitat of the cloud forest includes lower montane wet forest and lower montane rain forest. In the region of Monteverde with this kind of vegetation, no towns or cities are present. Spinous trees are practically absent in the cloud forest. For example, the Zanthoxylum melonostictum of the cloud forest has no thorns even when four congeners of the Pacific slope have thick ones on their trunks.
Caribbean slope rain forest:
The forest of the Caribbean slope under the 1,400 m receives an annual precipitation between 3,500 and 5,000 mm. A barely noticeable dry period exists in March and April.
Life zones in the region.
Seven out of twelve life zones existing in Costa Rica are present in Monteverde, according to the Holdridge life zones system and represented in the map of life zones of Costa Rica.
Tropical moist forest transition to Premontane:
This life zone forms a narrow band alongside the Pacific slope of the Tilaran mountains from 600 m to approximately 900 m above sea level. The Premontane moist forest exists between 700 and 1,100 m in a 2 by 11km band from the hills northwest of the San Rafael town and it extends within the canyon of the Guacimal river between 900 and 1,100 m in the lower areas of Bajo del Tigre. Only small isolated fragments of this forest type exist in the area.
Premontane wet forest:
This life zone forms a wide band alongside the Pacific slope from 800 to 1,500 m above sea level including the communities of Monteverde, Santa Elena, and most of the Valle San Luis. The natural vegetation is an evergreen forest with few deciduous species, especially on the Pacific side, plus diversity and abundance of epiphytes.
Lower premontane wet forest:
This life zone is found in a restricted area in the high parts of the Pacific slope (1,450-1,600 m) and it extends from the lower parts of the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve to the town of Las Nubes, including the high areas of the Negro and Chiquito river basins. Mist favors a diverse and abundant epiphyte community and maintains the exuberant character of this forest during the dry period. This climate withstands a high and dense cloud forest between 30 to 40 m.
Lower montane rain forest:
This life zone exists above the lower montane wet forest in the peaks and crests of the continental divide, 1,550 to 1,850 m, and alongside the high peaks that enclose the valley of the Peñas Blancas river. This life zone also includes the high areas of the Monteverde and Santa Elena Reserves. In this zone vegetation is dense with a divided canopy at 15 to 30 m, typical in the cloud forest.
Epiphytes form dense agglomerations that coat trunks and branches.
Premontane rain forest:
This zone covers the moyarity of the Caribbean slope, between 700 and 1,400 m, in the basins of the Peñas Blancas and Caño Negro rivers.
Tropical wet forest transition to premontane:
The tropical wet forest exists alongside the Peñas Blancas river under the 700 m, northwest and alongside the foothills of the area from San Bosco to the Arenal Volcano above La Fortuna around the southeast edge of the Arenal lake. Canopy height is between 40 and 50 meters with some reaching 55-60 meters; this forest presents a majestic aspect corresponding to a true rainforest.
Conservation in the region through protected areas.
The Monteverde Biological Reserve is part of the Zona Protectora Arenal-Monteverde which is also part of a set of protected areas of different management categories that constitute a continuous block of vegetation in the region, from the Alberto Manuel Brenes Biological Reserve in the southeast of the Cordillera de Tilarán to the Arenal Volcano National Park, in the northwest sector.
This undoubtedly represents a fundamental element for the future of the species of flora and fauna of the area in terms of their ecological viability, since these ASPs (Protected wild areas) declared by the State, together with other wild areas of private domain, make up a block of continuous forest of approximately 80,000 hectares.