Pura Vida! Costa Rica

Wednesday, February 6, 2013 by Caroline Casals

Ever wonder what GMRI scientists do on vacation?  More science! (ok, sometimes we do).

I recently returned from a botanical study of Costa Rica!  In Costa Rica, pura vida means "pure life", but is used all the time whenever something is cool or great.  That's a fitting phrase for a country that is famous for its rich plant and animal diversity, including the famous rain and cloud forests.  For our study we traveled all over the country and studied the different plants that lived in the different environments there, including the hot humid rainforest on the pacific coast,

the cooler cloud forest in one of the country's central mountain ranges,

the cold paramó or alpine zone, at the top of the Talamanca mountain range,

and the hot dry forest in the north.  

That's an awful lot of diversity for a country that is roughly half the size of Maine! 


So how does such a tiny country have so many different environments?  The answer lies in two different factors: altitude and weather!


Altitude!? You mean we have to carry this stuff up a mountian!?

In the tropics, the main reason that you might experience a change in temperature is due to altitude.  The higher up you are, the colder it gets.  So in the paramó at 13,000 feet, you might even have to worry about frost!

Wait, frost!? You said you were taking me on a nice hot beach vacation! 

The other factor is weather, or more specifically, rainfall.  In some places like Corcovado national park, where I camped, the annual rainfall can be as high as 200 inches a year!  Other places, like Guanacaste province where we visited the dry forest, can get as little as 60 inches a year.  That’s a huge difference in a really little country!

OK, I’m confused, somebody explain please!

The secret behind this climatological magic trick is what’s called a “rain shadow”.  Rain shadows are usually caused by big mountain ranges, which Costa Rica has lots of.  The weather usually moves in one direction, in Costa Rica it’s east to west, and the moisture gets dumped on the windward side of the mountains which means that the leeward side, or backside of the mountains, only gets a little bit of the leftover moisture.

I drink your moisture... I drink it up....

All this diversity in environments means that there are lots of different habitats for all of Costa Rica’s plants and animals to live in!

Ants, ants, ants... I love ants... oooo! ants! Oh DANG, it's these guys again....


Have you noticed any strange weather patterns where you live?  What are some of the different ecosytems in Maine? Let us know in the comments below!

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