Cerro Gaital – a biodiversity hotspot
El Valle de Anton is nestled within a fifteen square mile crater. To the northern edge of the town lies the nature reserve El Monumento Natural Cerro Gaital. The protected forest encompasses three ranges: Cerro Gaital, Cerro Pajita, and Cerro Caracoral. Reaching altitudes of over 1,000 meters, the land is one of the few preserved cloud forests in the world, and is home to many endemic bird and flower species. Indeed, Cerro Gaital is widely regarded as one of the best birdwatching spots in Panama.
Because of El Valle's unique location, clouds are trapped within the crater and constantly hover above the valley. The high elevation and the continuous presence of cloud cover combine to create an ecosystem unlike any other. The flora within cloud forests rarely receives direct sunlight and most of the water is received in the form of dew and fog drip.
While cloud forests often cannot boast of having as many flora and fauna species as temperate or tropical rain forests, they are home to many endemic species that are only found among these rare conditions. Like Costa Rica's famous Monteverde cloud forest, Cerro Gaital is also a biodiversity hotspot.
The cloud forest facing multiple threats
However, the acreage of cloud forests is decreasing worldwide. Because of high poverty rates in villages neighboring these habitats, people are often tempted to collect plants and animals endemic to the rare landscape to illegally sell for exorbitant prices. Continuous population growth and uncontrolled land use has also caused construction, development, and logging projects to infringe on these precious areas. A study performed on Monteverde reveals that development projects can also send more heat into the atmosphere, thus increasing the average temperature and reducing the amount of moisture existing in the clouds. Although not as publicized as Costa Rica's tourist spot, Cerro Gaital is faced with similar threats.
Climate change is also affecting cloud forests. As temperatures increase, cloud forests will soon only be able to exist at higher altitudes, eventually destroying any cloud forests existing in lower regions. Additionally, if temperatures reach unprecedented levels, it will reduce the moisture in the air that creates these unique habitats, pushing many species to extinction.
El Valle de Anton is currently experiencing a development boom, becoming a hotspot for tourism – both for locals and foreigners looking to get away for the weekend. Real estate is also increasing as more people are moving to the valley, buying land, and building close to the hills of Cerro Gaital. If construction continues unmonitored, the valley's economic increase could potentially cause disorderly destruction within the forests and threaten the orchid populations.
With the imminent threat of extinction for several orchid species, APROVACA, conveniently nestled below the cloud forest Cerro Gaital, is working to reintroduce eight orchid species into their natural habitat. The eight species – Acineta chrysantha, Cycnoches warscewiczii, Eriopsis biloba, Gongora armeniaca, Gongora gibba, Gongora tricolor, Houlletia tigrina, and Neomoorea irrorata – are some of the most over-collected orchids in Panama. APROVACA hopes to successfully grow these orchids in our greenhouses and gardens, and then reintroduce them into the lands of Cerro Gaital.