Global Warming; Battle in the Tropics Final Draft

This topic submitted by Pattie Reuss ( at 12:52 PM on 5/18/06.

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Global Warming; Battle in the Tropics

It is projected that by the time a baby born today reaches 80 years old, the world will be an astonishing 6 and half degrees warmer than now (Shermer, 2006). This gradual increase in planet-wide temperature is commonly known as global warming. Scientists have known long ago that the earth has experienced extensive historical cycles of global warming and cooling. It is believed that the earth has been gradually warming since the end of the last ice age, approximately 18,000 years ago. Only recently however has it dawned on us that these climatic cycles of heating can be exaggerated by humans and our way of life (Weather forecast, 2006). So the question is not whether the earth is gradually heating up because we already know the answer to that; the question is more focused on whether humans are to blame or if the earth is going through a natural cycle.

This paper will investigate global warming in the tropics. It will explore how areas such as Costa Rica have previously been altered, how itÕs currently changing and also look into the future as this heating trend continues. Today climate change in the tropics has already been linked to species migration to the poles, changes in seasonal behavior, and even extinction. This paper will also delve into the differences between biologists and economists opinion of how climate change will impact wildlife.

The Monteverde Cloud Forest located in Costa Rica has experienced a recent warming trend which has led to changes in species distribution and abundance. The lifting cloud base hypothesis predicts the average altitude of the Orographic cloud bank has risen as a result of global warming. This rise in altitude of the cloud bank has potential to affect key ecological processes, and it has. As a result of the cloud bank rising the hydrology of the area has changed through cloud water and dry season mist. The lifting cloud base hypothesis builds on the evidence of rising sea levels which in return have altered the climates of tropical mountains such as Monteverde. Birds, reptiles and amphibians as well as other wildlife have all been influenced from this warming as they are losing their habitat and being forced to higher altitudes. The golden toad has already gone extinct, whatÕs next? (Pounds, 1999).

Harlequin frogs appear to be thriving and hardy due to their bright coloring amongst the lush green backdrop of the tropics. In actuality these frogs are very frail, with a semi-permeable skin that leaves them vulnerable to even the slightest change in the environment (Kluger, 2006). Because of their brilliant coloring it became apparent immediately when sightings of Harlequin frogs became less and less common. When this decline in species became noticeable, about 25 years ago scientists assumed that something in the amphibiansÕ ecosystem had changed causing numerous species to die off.

Researchers have recognized the chytrid fungus, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, as the culprit responsible for the disappearance of harlequin frogs; however it wasnÕt until recently that it was discovered why the fungus began spreading rapidly. Many times itÕs difficult to place blame on global warming because most of the time it is not a direct link to extinction. In this case, "Disease is the bullet killing frogs, but climate change is pulling the trigger," says concerned Alan Pounds, an ecologist at the Tropical Science Center's Montedverde Cloud Forest Preserve in Costa Rica (Alterman, 2006). It was found that species tend to vanish during years with the warmest average temperatures (Brownlee, 2006). An increase in temperature has resulted in additional water evaporation, which results in thicker cloud cover in the region. The heavy clouds block just enough sunlight to keep daytime temperatures lower than average. But at night, the cloud cover prevents heat from escaping the atmosphere which leads to higher temperatures. This recipe of daytime cooling and nighttime warming creates and idea environment for the fungus to thrive. The fungus then attacks the sensitive skin of the frog and kills them.

Frogs however are not the only species feeling the heat. A 27 year study was completed in Monteverde to track patterns of bats. The outcome of this study was expected to be minimal due to the fact that bats are mammals that are able to occupy a large niche versus a small range of inhabitable space. Nets were set up in four test areas of different elevations alongside the mountain. Each of the 4 test sites contained many nets which recorded the species of bat and also its weight as they were caught in the net. The high and low temperatures were recorded as well for each day. The results confirmed a rather significant rise in temperature of two degrees Celsius during this time frame. The findings of this study have revealed no decline in number of bats being captured. However, the data did suggest migration of bats upslope and if this trend continues the situation could worsen (LaVal, 2004).

Animals are not the only ones affected by the climate change; plants are going through distress as well. A long term study was performed on tree growth in Costa Rica revealing that the threat of global warming may happen faster than anticipated. The research team found that Costa Rican trees grow less in hot years. This becomes problematic because tropical forests such as Costa Rica have previously been important sinks for greenhouse gases and now they will possibly become sources of CO2. Trees soak up CO2 from the atmosphere and also continually respire the gas. Previously it was understood that this cycle was balanced however due to increasing temperature trees are releasing more CO2 through respiration than they are taking in. (Kaiser).

As you might suspect biologists and economists have different opinions on the outlook of global effects on wildlife? Biologists focus on the collective long-term consequences of minor impacts whereas economists emphasize the importance of only major present-day changes. Biologists believe the issue of climate change to be very serious with major consequences probable while economists have doubts that the current research is sufficient to be alarmed about. Economists believe that only a small portion of species are being studied, those most likely to be affected by climate change in the first place. These reasons lead economists to believe the study of climate change is biased as well as the fact that journals prefer to publish controversial findings (Withgott, 2003).

Costa Rica is well known for its vibrant tourist industry in which cloud forests, volcanoes and turtles attract generous visitors. This tiny country boasts over 6% of the world's plant and animal species which helps to entice enthusiastic tourists. (McLean, 2005). Due to the great diversity of the wildlife in the area climate change does not appear to be a potential threat to ecotourism. The whole premise of ecotourism is responsible travel to natural areas that promotes conserving the environment. The only threat to the ecotourism in Costa Rica right now is overdevelopment, as hotels and internet cafˇÕs are popping up at alarming rates the natives are worried about losing the areas original charm (Gunderson, 2005). The local economy has become increasingly dependent on tourism profits; the community has evolved almost exclusively around it. We can only hope that global climate change will not eventually lead to the demise of Costa RicaÕs successful ecotourism; however that would be wishful thinking.

Some believe that global warming leading to a warmer climate may be an advantage to certain species. Few studies have been done in this subject matter however fish in the North Atlantic are expected to increase as well certain species of squid and octopus. The truth is that our planet cannot handle a drastic climate change whether it is up or down. Nature is a circle of life, as every species changes it impacts the life of another, the domino effect. It is true that the earthÕs temperature has fluctuated over time, however at a slow enough rate for wildlife to adapt. It is the human impact of global climate change that has scientists and researches concerned (Sierra, 2006).

Engineers have been working diligently in the development of alternatives to fossil fuels in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and slow global warming. Progress has been made, however none are as efficient as our current means. It is also important to note the switch would be costly and time consuming. One suggestion is geologic carbon sequestration, which is when carbon dioxide is injected underground back to its original location. The outlook is positive if carbon dioxide is placed within impermeable rocks where the risk of leaking is low, and itÕs estimated that there is room for decades of emissions to be stored safely. Unfortunately geologic carbon sequestration has its downfalls as do the rest of the alternatives for fossil fuel (Friedmann, 2004). The best suggestion for now is to reduce our use of fossil fuels; this can be done by switching to more fuel efficient cars and appliances and simply being conscious of energy use. Because as of today energy is the core of modern civilization and as societies and economies develop, so does their energy consumption. If everyone does there part to help reduce global greenhouse gases now, our planet might nurse itself back to a healthy state where wildlife can flourish.


Alterman, Tabitha. "Global Warning: Tropical Frogs Vanishing.." Mother Earth News 215Apr 2006 20-20. 15 May 2006 .

Beardsley, Tim. "In the heat of the night." Scientific America 249.4 (1998): 20-21. Brownlee, Christen. "Global warming may already be a killer." Science News 169.7 (2006): 109-110.

Friedmann, Julio. "Out of the energy box." Foreign Affairs 83.6Dec 2004 72-83. 15 June 2006 .

Gunderson, Jeff. "Clouds over a quaker forest." Americas 57.3May 2005 6-13. 14 May 2006 .

Kaiser, Jocelyn. "Tropical Forests Fuel Warming?." Science Now: 2-4.
Kluger, Jeffrey. "Why are these frogs croaking?." Tim 168.423 Jan 2006 57-57. 15, May 2006 .


McLean, Justin. "Latin America's Luxury Ecotours." Business Week 9 Dec 2005 13 Mat 2006 .

Pounds, Alan J. "Biological response to climate change on a tropical mountain." Nature 4/15 1999: 611-616.

Shermer, Michael. "The flipping point." Scientific American 294. 2006 28-29. May, 15 2006

Sierra, "Signs of a changing planet." 91.2Mar 2006 13-13. 15 May 2006 .

"Weather Forecast." Time 167.1220 Jun 2006 20-20. 15 May 2006 .

Withgott, Jay. "Refugee species are feeling the heat of global warming." New Scientist 177.2376 (2003): 4-5.

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