Threats to the Conservation of
Tropical Dry Forest in Costa Rica
Mauricio Quesada and Kathryn E. Stoner
APPROXIMATELY 550,000 KM2 of tropical dry forest covered the Pacific coast of Mesoamerica at the time that the Spaniards arrived. Today less than 2 percent of this forest remains (Janzen 1988), mostly in Mexico (Trejo and Dirzo 2000). It has been estimated that the only protected sites of tropical dry forest in Mesoamerica that are large enough to possibly sustain dry-forest ecosystems are Parque Nacional Santa Rosa and Parque Nacional Palo Verde in Guanacaste, Costa Rica, and the ChamelaCuixmala Biosphere Reserve in Jalisco, Mexico (Hartshorn 1988).
Tropical dry forests in Costa Rica have almost disappeared. The total area of original dry forest in Costa Rica estimated before 1940 was approximately 400,000 ha (8% of the national territory), and by 1950 this area was reduced to 40,200 ha (Sader and Joyce 1988). The most recent Landsat TM satellite image analysis estimates that less than 0.1 percent of tropical dry forest remains in Costa Rica and recognizes this habitat as the most endangered within the country (Sánchez-Azofeifa 1997).
Eleven different conservation areas are recognized in Costa Rica today, and only two of these contain the ten national parks and reserves that protect tropical dry forest (Blanco and Mata 1994). Parque Nacional Guanacaste in the Guanacaste Conservation Area protects approximately 50,000 ha, and Parque Nacional Palo Verde and Reserva Biológica Lomas Barbudal in the Tempisque Conservation Area protect an additional 20,000 ha.
In this chapter we discuss the major factors that have affected tropical dry forests in Costa Rica and some of the effects that they have had on this ecosystem. We also discuss current management practices used by the Tempisque Conservation Area in Parque Nacional Palo Verde and Reserva Biológica Lomas Barbudal that may threaten the preservation of tropical dry forests.