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Our Cloud Forest Home

March 14, 2022

¡Hola! Our names are Liat (lee-aht) and Alex (hopefully you can pronounce this one), and we are excited to be the new managers of Reserva Las Tangaras! We arrived here just over a week ago from our home country, the United States, and are currently acclimating to our new lifestyle here. However, between fresh tropical fruit and the wonders of the cloud forest, acclimation could be a lot harder. Thus far, managing and being at Reserva Las Tangaras has been an absolute treat.

Reserva Las Tangaras is beautifully nestled in the cloud forest that surrounds Mindo, Ecuador. While sitting on the reserve’s porch and peering in all different directions one gets a sense of the vast scales and incredible density of the forest. The physical comforts of the reserve are just that much more comfortable when contrasted with the wildness of the jungle. We’d be hard pressed to think of something more luxurious than a hot shower and a tasty warm meal while in the middle of wilderness (except maybe a butler fanning us with banana leaves and dropping fresh fruit into our mouths, but we can’t have it all, can we/that’s not in our budget). Until then a hot shower and warm meal suit us just fine.

Curry with fresh naan bread

Very quickly one realizes that the rainforest does not exactly want our manmade projects to exist here. It is always ready to swallow them up with heavy rains and all the fungi and micro life. So, we must make our efforts to persuade the forest to let the reserve stay here. We do that with a good amount of maintenance to the property; sanding, maderol, varnishing, and waxing are necessary precautions to keep the massive quantities of water circulating through the forest out of our wooden structures. Rio Nambillo, the river lining the northern edge of Las Tangaras’ property, can be heard coursing from the reserve’s porch, but despite its intensity it still offers serene swimming holes for a dip in between rain showers. The swimming holes are gorgeous and look like the quintessential images of tropical paradises from adventure novels or Bachelor in Paradise.

Waxing the floors. A necessary chore to live in the tropics.

It seems best to be honest upfront and confess that we are both biology nerds, but much like a job interview perhaps we can claim that this ‘weakness’ is actually a strength… At least out here in the cloud forest it may just be. It would be difficult not to be impressed by the sheer magnitude of biology that is present in a cloud forest. Layers upon layers of life exist here, whether or not they are directly visible to onlooking human eyes. 

Seeing this extent of biological magnitude begs the question: Why exactly is there so much biomass here?

With large amounts of biomass, there must be a large amount of energy to produce so much life. The sun, an awesome source of energy, is, according to some sources, very hot. Too much or too little of its immense heat and light, or rather its energy, and climate conditions change drastically. Mindo’s cloud forest, due to its location as a next door neighbor of the Earth’s equator, receives little fluctuation in sunlight intensity and duration. The days here receive a fairly consistent amount of sunlight year-round, and unlike places that have intense seasonal variations, the temperatures here remain fairly consistent as well. Without intense seasonal fluctuations the air here does not gain or lose a significant amount of heat. For example, think of the extreme environment of the arctic. The arctic is characterized by long, freezing cold winters with almost no daylight and short, intense summers with near constant daylight minus a few hours. The arctic air will fluctuate in temperature tremendously, losing immense amounts of heat in the winter and warming up significantly in the summer only to be lost again next winter. 

Interestingly, both regions in this example, the cloud forest and the arctic, receive the same number of hours of sunlight throughout the year. The stark difference is when that sunlight is received and the angle at which it hits the surface of the Earth. The tropics receive nearly direct sunlight due to a perpendicular angle of their location along the equator relative to the sun and thus receive a higher concentration of photons (energy packets from the sun) throughout the year. Contrastingly, the angle of sunlight at the poles varies drastically but never approximates the perpendicular equatorial rays. These differences in when and angle – consistent sunlight/air temperature and high concentration of photons – are key to the success and existence of the cloud forest.

Now, the other key component for the cloud forest to generate so much biomass is, maybe not so shockingly, water. And a lot of it. Fortunately and not coincidently, a cloud forest is a type of rainforest. Not only is it a rainforest, but it is among the rainiest of rainforests. Mindo’s cloud forest receives nearly 5000 mm of rain annually.  Rain is amazingly abundant here, with the dry season receiving about 345 mm of rain per month and the wet season receiving about 486 mm per month. Although ‘dry season’ seems to be a bit of a misnomer, the name is relative. Perhaps we should call it the ‘not quite as wet as the wet season season,’ but we digress. These rain values reveal substantial differences in the amount of rain, although it is still abundant year-round. In temperate zones plants shed their leaves when it is cold and dry. As we addressed before, cloud forest temperatures rarely drop significantly, and looking at the rain value in the ‘not as wet as the wet season season’ one can see that it never gets very dry here. This means plants do not shed their leaves seasonally, and so the leaves, called by some the photosynthetic launchpad, are shed throughout the year. Leaves are always abundant and collecting sunlight for photosynthesis, which is a critical piece of the tropical puzzle we laid out. Except for some of the bizarre alien creatures that live on the bottom of the ocean, all of the energy that is used by life on Earth is captured by photosynthesis. Generally speaking, more photosynthesis yields more biomass.

And finally (we promise this is going somewhere), with the consistent daylight, consistent temperature, and a plenitude of water we get a ton of photosynthesis yielding lots of oxygen and sugar energy for more forms of life! Pretty amazing, isn’t it?

These conditions of daylight and rain make the tropics, and specifically the cloud forest, a unique and magnificent place to marvel at. Understanding some of why it exists has only added to the wonder of the life here in all its forms and abundance. We hope you want to come see it for yourself. If you do, be sure to come say hi to us at Reserva Las Tangaras.

Reserva las Tangaras shrouded in clouds
One Comment leave one →
  1. April 22, 2022 12:43 pm

    Great blog! Makes me want to be there for meals, too!


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