The idea of producing this book resulted from several realizations for the editors in 1997. The first was an awareness that a large body of biological research from major regions of Costa Rica was available in the literature. In particular, extensive research had been carried out on the lowland Atlantic wet forest, the middle elevation cloud forest (1,400–1,800 m), and the lowland Pacific dry forest over a period of about 30 years. Further, the wet forest had just received a comprehensive biological review by McDade et al. (1994), and a biological review of the cloud forest was in progress (see later in this preface). Second, from the 1980s onward, many biologists and nonbiologists made enormous human and financial investments to protect biodiversity in all parts of the country, using modern conservation approaches and methods. Despite these efforts, little attention had been paid to assessing effectiveness of their work. Finally, in the more than 30 years that had passed since the first national parks and reserves were established in Costa Rica, including the dry-forest area, there had been no comprehensive assessments of whether these designated areas had been effective in protecting biodiversity.
We decided to focus on the seasonal dry forest in the northwestern region of the country because it lacked a review comparable to that of the lowland wet and cloud forests of Costa Rica. Furthermore, this type of forest was rapidly disappearing, in large part because it was so easily converted to agriculture. Daniel Janzen estimated that only 2 percent of the original Middle American tropical dry forest remained.
Building on extensive biological knowledge and modern trends for conserving biodiversity, we determined that the book should address three main questions: What do we know about the biodiversity and status of the most prominent groups of plants and animals in the dry forest? What have we learned biologically, socioeconomically, and politically about conserving these specific groups? What do we need to