Forest CoverTotal forest area: 2,391,000 ha % of land area: 46.8%
Primary forest cover: 180,000 ha % of land area: 3.5% % total forest area: 7.5%
Deforestation Rates, 2000-2005Annual change in forest cover: 3,000 ha Annual deforestation rate: 0.1% Change in defor. rate since '90s: -117.2% Total forest loss since 1990: -173,000 ha Total forest loss since 1990:-6.7%
Primary or "Old-growth" forests Annual loss of primary forests: n/a Annual deforestation rate: n/a Change in deforestation rate since '90s: -100.0% Primary forest loss since 1990: n/a Primary forest loss since 1990:-29.4%
Forest ClassificationPublic: 24.3% Private: 75.7% Other: n/a Use Production: 0.1% Protection: 1.9% Conservation: 24.5% Social services: n/a Multiple purpose: 73.5% None or unknown: n/a
Forest Area BreakdownTotal area: 2,391,000 ha Primary: 180,000 ha Modified natural: 1,319,000 ha Semi-natural: 888,000 ha Production plantation: 1,000 ha Production plantation: 3,000 ha
PlantationsPlantations, 2005: 4,000 ha % of total forest cover: 0.2% Annual change rate (00-05): 200,000 ha
Carbon storageAbove-ground biomass: 224 M t Below-ground biomass: 161 M t
Area annually affected byFire: 6,000 ha Insects: n/a Diseases: n/a
Number of tree species in IUCN red listNumber of native tree species: 117 Critically endangered: 4 Endangered: 33 Vulnerable: 74
The Central American country of Costa Rica, despite its small size, has high levels of biological diversity with some 12,000 species of plants, 1,239 species of butterflies, 838 species of birds, 440 species of reptiles and amphibians, and 232 species of mammals. Costa Rica has an ambitious conservation program, perhaps one of the most developed among tropical rainforest countries, that protects more than 10 percent of the country. One protected strip of forest runs uninterrupted for 40 miles through nine ecological zones from sea level to 12,500 feet. In 1995, the government presented a plan to protect 18 percent of the country in national parks and another 13 percent in privately owned preserves. Areas targeted for protection are those with high biodiversity. The government funds the project by issuing landowners forest protection certificates which will annually pay landowners about $50 for every forest hectare (2.5 acres), with the agreement that the forest will be protected. Around two-thirds of Costa Rica's remaining rainforests are protected.
Costa Rica has initiated numerous inventive programs to promote sustainable development. One such project, organized by FUNDECOR (Foresta Project of the Foundation for the Development of the Central Volcanic Mountain Range), works to sustainably manage more than 13,000 hectares (30,000 acres) of forest by developing forest management plans for landowners. Not only do the landowners end up with more money in their pockets, but operations also do less damage to the forest as they remove valuable trees.
Eco-tourism has become one of the most important sources of revenue for Costa Rica. The country is considered an ideal introduction to the rainforests for its biodiversity, its excellent and accessible parks system, and its relative safety for tourists. In some areas, tourism has proved a little too much for the environment and some parks now have restrictions on the number of visitors allowed at any given time. Further, the construction of hotels in some locations has proved ecologically controversial. Still, Costa Rica serves as a prime example to other developing countries that economic well-being is compatible with forest preservation.
Costa Rica is looking to capitalize on its forests in ways other than eco-tourism. In 2005, Costa Rica joined a coalition of tropical developing countries that proposed a "rainforest conservation for emissions" deal at the December United Nations summit on climate change in Montreal. The plan, which was accepted by the UN, called for wealthy nations to compensate poor nations for rainforest conservation. Costa Rica already had a similar program in place which protected rainforest by selling allowances to emit greenhouses gases. In 1999, the program generated some $20 million.
Despite its environmental rhetoric and conservation legislation, Costa Rica has a poor track record when it comes to deforestation. In the early 1990s, the country had one of the worst deforestation rates in Latin America. Costa Rica was once 99 percent forested, but forest cover has steadily diminished from 85 percent in 1940 to around 35 percent today according to the FAO's State of the World's Forests (FAO's Forest Resources Assessment says the current cover is closer to 50 percent). Historically, clearing for agriculture (mostly coffee and bananas) and cattle pastures has been the largest contributor to Costa Rica's rainforest destruction. During the 1970s and early 1980s, vast stretches of rainforest were burned and converted into cattle lands, but when the largest importer of Central American beef, the United States, ceased beef imports, Costa Rica was left with millions of acres of cleared land and a lot of cattle.
Today, while deforestation rates of natural forest have dropped considerably, Costa Rica's remaining forests still face threats from illegal timber harvesting in protected areas and conversion for agriculture and cattle pasture in unprotected zones. The popularity of Costa Rica as an eco-tourist destination makes parks a source of income rather than an expense, and past governments have been known to use park funds for making up budget shortfalls instead of maintaining protected areas. Corruption remains a problem in Costa Rica, though not as much as in nearby countries.
The 90 Percent Diet: reducing our environmental impact by eating less meat
(08/07/2014) In Brian Machovina’s life, a serendipitous influence of people and places have all contributed to his current passion for inspiring people to eat less meat. With fewer grazing animals, Machovina’s studies show that we could make better conservation and production choices with land that would otherwise be used to raise or feed livestock.
Olinguito, tinkerbell, and a dragon: meet the top 10 new species of 2013
(05/22/2014) Out of around 18,000 new species described and named last year, scientists have highlighted ten in an effort to raise awareness about the imperiled biodiversity around us. Each species—from a teddy-bear-like carnivore in the Andes to a microbe that survives clean rooms where spaceships are built—stands out from the crowd for one reason or another.
The matrix matters: scientists find surprising biodiversity between forests
(05/20/2014) In human-dominated countryside areas, forests are often fragmented and scattered among a matrix of developments such as plantations and pastures. Scientists have long overlooked the habitat value of these matrices. However, according to a recent study published in Nature, the biodiversity of altered countryside areas that exist between islands of fragmented forests can be significant and deserving of conservation attention.
City lights threaten rainforests by deterring bats
(04/09/2014) Fruit-eating bats play an important role in forest regeneration, collecting and spreading seeds far and wide. However, human development may be stymying bat-mediated dispersal. In a new study, researchers found that fruit bats avoid feeding in light-polluted areas, which may significantly affect forest growth.
Sloths, moths and algae: a surprising partnership sheds light on a mystery
(03/22/2014) While it spends the majority of its time in the safety of tree canopies, the three-toed sloth regularly places itself in mortal danger by descending to the forest floor to defecate. For years, scientists have been trying to figure out what is driving this peculiar and risky behavior. Now, Jonathan Pauli from the University of Wisconsin-Madison believes his team of researchers has found an important clue to this mystery involving an unusual and beneficial relationship among sloths, moths and algae.
Leftover trees enhance the biodiversity of new forests
(03/18/2014) Trees left standing after deforestation have a discernible impact on the composition of local biodiversity in secondary growth forests, according to a new study published in PLOS ONE. Researchers working on the Osa Peninsula in Costa Rica discovered that remnant trees could affect species composition of regenerated forests up to 20 years after being logged.
Ecotourism pays: study finds lower poverty where nature-based tourism is prevalent
(02/25/2014) A new study has quantified a point long advocated by advocates of setting aside protected areas: ecotourism pays. The research, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), finds that communities neighboring conservation areas in Costa Rica had lower rates of poverty relative to other areas.
Tree islands more effective way to replant the world's forests
(01/09/2014) Worldwide, large swaths of land lay barren in the wake of agricultural expansion, and as global forest cover continues to decline, carbon and water cycles, biodiversity, and human health are impacted. But efforts to restore abandoned pastures and agricultural plots back into functioning forest ecosystems are often hindered by high costs and time requirements. Fortunately, scientists have developed a new method for a more cost effective solution to forest restoration, the establishment of 'tree islands.'
Top 10 HAPPY environmental stories of 2013
(12/19/2013) China begins to tackle pollution, carbon emissions: As China's environmental crisis worsens, the government has begun to unveil a series of new initiatives to curb record pollution and cut greenhouse emissions. The world's largest consumer of coal, China's growth in emissions is finally slowing and some experts believe the nation's emissions could peak within the decade. If China's emissions begin to fall, so too could the world's.
Camera traps find less mammals than expected in Costa Rican corridor
(12/16/2013) A new study using camera traps in mongabay.com's open-access journal Tropical Conservation Science has surveyed the diversity of medium and large-sized predators in the San Juan-La Selva biological corridor in Costa Rica, whilst also demonstrating how alteration of habitat is affecting the use of this corridor.
Big data shows tropical mammals on the decline
(12/12/2013) The world's largest remote camera trap initiative—monitoring 275 species in 17 protected areas—is getting some big data assistance from Hewlett-Packard (HP). To date, the monitoring program known as the Tropical Ecology Assessment and Monitoring (TEAM) Network has taken over 1.5 million photos of animals in 14 tropical countries, but conservationists have struggled with how to quickly evaluate the flood of data.
Top 10 Environmental Stories of 2013
(12/10/2013) 1. Carbon concentrations hit 400ppm while the IPCC sets global carbon budget: For the first time since our appearance on Earth, carbon concentrations in the atmosphere hit 400 parts per million. The last time concentrations were this high for a sustained period was 4-5 million years ago when temperatures were 10 degrees Celsius higher. Meanwhile, in the slow-moving effort to curb carbon emissions, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) crafted a global carbon budget showing that most of the world's fossil fuel reserves must be left untouched if we are to avoid catastrophic climate change.
Satellites reveal browning mountain forests
(11/22/2013) In a dramatic response to global warming, tropical forests in the high elevation areas of five continents have been "browning" since the 1990s. They have been steadily losing foliage, and showing less photosynthetic activity. Scientists analyzed the forest cover by using satellites to measure sunlight bouncing off the surface of the earth, then determining the different surface types via reflection patterns.
Fishermen get crafty to circumvent shark fin ban
(11/10/2013) Authorities in Costa Rica have identified a new method used by fishermen to circumvent a ban on killing sharks for their fins. According to an INTERPOL alert, fishermen are now leaving a band of skin to keep the fin attached to the spine when they kill sharks. This approach takes advantage of an apparent loophole in regulations governing the shark fin trade.
Thought-to-be-extinct 'halloween' frog rediscovered in Costa Rica
(11/04/2013) A breeding population of a critically endangered harlequin toad thought to be extinct in Costa Rica has been discovered in a tract of highland forest in the Central American country, reports a paper published in Amphibia-Reptilia. Atelopus varius, an orange-and-black harlequin toad, was once relatively common from central Costa Rica to western Panama. But beginning in the 1980's the species experienced a rapid population collapse across most of its range.
Nature tours in Costa Rica: an economic alternative to palm oil?
(10/16/2013) Oil palm plantations have been rapidly expanding across the tropics for the better part of the past twenty years due to high returns from palm oil production. But palm oil isn't necessarily the most profitable form of land use in wildlife-rich areas, as one conservation entrepreneur is demonstrating in Costa Rica.David Lando Ramirez, a landowner in Sarapiqui, northeastern Costa Rica, has converted a small patch of oil palm into a thriving ecotourism business centered around people's love of the Central American nation's stunning diversity of birds.
Climate change pushing tropical trees upslope 'exactly as predicted'
(09/27/2013) Tropical tree communities are moving up mountainsides to cooler habitats as temperatures rise, a new study in Global Change Biology has found. By examining the tree species present in ten one-hectare plots at various intervals over a decade, researchers found that the proportion of lowland species increased in the plots at higher elevations. The study, which was undertaken in Volcan Barva, Costa Rica, adds to a growing body of evidence that climate change is having an impact on species range distributions.
Preserving forest, birds boosts coffee profit up to $300/ha by controlling pests
(09/11/2013) Birds are providing a valuable ecosystem service on coffee plantations in Costa Rica, finds a new study that quantifies the pest control benefits of preserving tree cover in agricultural areas. The study, published in the journal Ecology Letters, looked at the impact of the coffee berry borer beetle (Hypothenemus hampeii) on coffee yields. The beetle is the only insect that directly consumes coffee berries, making it a major scourge for coffee farmers around the world, costing producers some $500 million a year.
New tiny insect named after Peter Pan fairy discovered in Central America
(08/16/2013) A new genus of fairyfly has been discovered in Costa Rica. The new species aptly named Tinkerbella nana after the fairy in J.M. Barrie’s play ‘Peter Pan’ is one of the smallest winged insects in the neotropics. Found in both temperate and tropical climates, the fairyfly is not actually a fly as its name suggests, but instead is more closely related to wasps – being classed within the superfamily Chalcidoidea, or the “chalcid wasps”.
Deforestation ban working in Costa Rica
(08/05/2013) Costa Rica's ban on clearing of "mature" forests appears to be effective in encouraging agricultural expansion on non-forest lands, finds a study published today in the journal Environmental Research Letters. The study, which was led by Matthew Fagan of Columbia University, found that since Costa Rica implemented its ban on conversion of mature forests in 1996, the annual rate of old-growth forest loss dropped 40 percent despite an agricultural boom in the region. The results suggest that Costa Rica is intensifying agricultural production while simultaneously sparing forests.
Scientists build app to automatically identify species based on their calls
(07/16/2013) New technology makes it possible to automatically identify species by their vocalizations. The platform, detailed in the current issue of the journal PeerJ, has been used at sites in Puerto Rico and Costa Rica to identify frogs, insects, birds, and monkeys. Many of the animals identified by the system are typically difficult to spot in their natural environment, but audio recordings of their calls reveal not only their presence but also their activity patterns.
Conservationists urge Costa Rica to maintain environmental leadership
(06/30/2013) A body representing hundreds of biologists and conservation scientists has urged the government of Costa Rica not to jeopardize its reputation as an environmental leader by allowing carve-outs from protected areas for industrial development. In a declaration issued Thursday at the conclusion its 50th annual meeting, the Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation (ATBC), applauded Costa Rica's pathbreaking efforts to integrate environmental protection into its national development strategy. But the group warned that proposed projects that would require de-gazetting of national parks for energy projects could undermine Costa Rica's green credentials.
Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions generated from mongabay.com operations (server, data transfer, travel) are mitigated through an association with Anthrotect,
an organization working with Afro-indigenous and Embera communities to protect forests in Colombia's Darien region. Anthrotect is protecting the habitat of mongabay's mascot: the scale-crested pygmy tyrant.
"Rainforest" is used interchangeably with "rain forest" on this site. "Jungle" is generally not used.