Cerro Chucanti is the Most Isolated Cloud Forest in Central America
Chucanti is the tallest mountain in the Darien, and part of the Mahe massif. A massif is an group of mountains unconnected to any other mountain chain. The Mahe massif in general formed about 10 million years ago, when the isthmus of panama was first emerging volcanically from the sea.
For at least 8 million years, this mountainous region was surrounded by hundred of miles of shallow seas. During this period, many animals and plants evolved here isolated from the rest of the world.
Eventually, about a million years ago, the shallow seas around Mahe began to dry up and turn into open flatland. This is also approximately the time that north and south America became joined by a complete isthmus, and the currents of the Atlantic and Pacific changed. As the land was pushed up further, the remains of millions of years worth of shells began alto be pushed up, forming great limestone bands around the mountain range. These bands eventually formed caves, which today house some of the largest bat populations in central America.
Although the entire Mahe region is unique, the cloud forests of Chucanti are the crown jewel. Cloud forests are a special type of rain forest that occur only above about a thousand meters in elevation, making up only 2.5% of the worlds tropical forests. These forests are shrouded in cool, wet mist nearly year round which create a special habitat for moisture loving, cool climate species. In this cloud forest, you can find oaks, orchids, birds, and animals that can not survive in the hot lower reaches of the mountains. Although cloud forests are quite rare, they harbor a disproportionately large number of the world’s species. This wealth of biodiversity includes the wild relatives and sources of genetic diversity of many of our staple crops, such as beans, potatoes and coffee- in fact, new species of coffee and avocado have been discovered growing on the slopes of Chucanti! Cloud forests are also of vital importance to local communities and downstream people for their unique ability to capture water from the clouds and direct rainfall year round that trickles down into the communities in the harsh dry season.
Chucanti lies in the middle of two of the worlds most biodiverse hotspots, isolated for more than 8 million years. With every new research team sent up, new species are being discovered.
Chucanti is especially unique because of its isolation. Chucanti lies in a key biological transition zone between two global Biodiversity Hotspots, the Mesoamerican Hotspot and the Tumbes-Choco-Magdalena Hotspot, as defined by Conservation International. Most cloud forests, like those near the Costa Rican border or those in Ecuador, are part of a long chain of mountains, where the specially adapted cloud forest species have a lot of area to evolve and live in. Chucanti’s is part of a massif, and has more than 400 miles between it and any other cloud forests- making it a “sky island”.
Because of this unique status, we can expect a high level of endemism- flora and fauna which are only found on that mountain. To date, more than 14 species have been documented as living only on Chucanti- including 2 salamanders, 2 snakes, a frog, a heliconia flower, several orchids and many others. Nearly ever research team sent up the mountain returns with a new species. The caves around it seem to house some of the largest bat populations in the Americas, in a region with the most bat species in the world- and there has never been a single study of bats in the area. The sheer amount of biodiveristy is unique on earth, and weve hardly explored it at all! Please see our species data base for a complete list of all the species, including endemics, that have been found on Chucanti.
There is still so much work to to preserve this sky island in the clouds, not only protecting it, but in studying and discovering what amazing creatures call it home. Please help us by donating to Chucanti- 100% of your money will go towards protecting this site and studying it.
We are always looking for capable volunteers as well, we need help with everything from promotion to web design to field work! Please visit out Volunteers page to join us.
The mahe massif is not currently protected under any organization, and much of the land does not even have owners, leaving it incredibly vulnerable to logging and hunting. ADOPTA is the only group in the region devoted to protecting, educating, and reforesting this unique habitat.