Cloud Forest Co-migration
The cloud forests of Central America are currently engaged in an uphill migration, as mountainside temperatures are increasing at a faster rate than lowland temperatures. Cloud forests are among the most bio-diverse regions on Earth, hosting species found nowhere else, widely undiscovered and undocumented by the scientific community. Cloud forests live where the warm, humid trade winds travel up mountain ranges to where the temperature becomes too cold for the wind to hold its moisture. Clouds are formed at this altitude, creating habitats persistently drenched in cool mist. The leaves of plants and trees strip the water from the clouds and cause it to drip into the mossy soil, feeding a multitude of plant and animal species. The water stripped from the clouds then feeds streams and rivers that flow to the valleys, where cities and villages rely on the water. In this way, cloud forests are massive natural water tanks, sustaining human and nonhuman life.
Should the cloud forests vanish, it is likely that human residents will be displaced as well. The indigenous people sustained by the ecosystems will be without a home, while the villages and cities fed by the watershed will experience water shortage as the clouds soar over the mountaintops, unharvested by trees and mosses. This project seeks to reconnect the movement of humans with the movement of the nonhuman cloud forest. Can human activity assist the migration of the cloud forest, and can the cloud forest inform the migration of humans?
Indigenous people, with their lifestyles, rituals and traditions deeply rooted in their natural environment, could be expected to follow the same migratory trajectories as the rest of the ecosystem’s species. Because of their integral understanding of how the forests operate, indigenous peoples play a key role in a successful migration. Following examples of cloud forest tribes such as the U’wa people, recognized indigenous territory should be expanded, returning land and preventing further land grabs and resource extraction. The patterns and migrations of the natives must be the basis for non-colonial development of all other migratory routes.
On the opposite side of the spectrum from the native peoples are ecotourists. Tourists visit the cloud forests to sight-see and explore. As a part of receiving permits to enter parts of the forests, this project suggests that tourists must agree to carry with them a cloud forest seedling or plant to be planted at a campsite on the destination side of the grassland. These ecotourists have potential to bring both money and labor to the conservation front by casting them as active participants in the environment, rather than passive consumers of it. Consumption could also play a helpful role in the migration. While commoditization of an ecosystem is one of its greatest threats, turning trees into timber and the other plants and species into overburden to be removed, design can subvert a commodity into a generative force to assist migration. For instance, cloud forests could be “bottled” into engineered terraria for purchase around the world, giving the cloud forest species a selection of habitats to migrate into. For instance, many cloud forest species are found to thrive in the foggy shores of coastal California. Can commoditization help cloud forests migrate to an entirely different region of earth where all the species could thrive?
Efforts in designing the migration of an enormous spectrum of human groups and non-human species could prove helpful in sustaining life in a rapidly and unpredictably changing climate. By understanding how humans and non-humans are linked integrally with their environment, methods of comigration begin to reveal themselves, so that displacement or extinction of any species or people group might be minimized. Cloud forests are only one of the thousands of ecosystems endangered by climate change; design analysis of any other environment will produce vastly different conce