Abstract

Regional studies evaluating spatial-temporal transformations of vegetation in Costa Rica, especially within National Parks, are scarce. Therefore, this paper analyses the vegetation distribution during 1960, 1976, 1997 and 2014 in the Corcovado National Park. This protected area is located in the Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica, and represents the Northern most tropical rain forest on the Pacific coast of America. This area offers a great wealth of biodiversity due to its geological formation, isolation for long time periods, and its particular climatic conditions that generate unique ecosystems such as cloud forests associated with ocean situated close to hill breezes located over 500 m a.s.l., as well as dense tropical forest. This study evaluates the spatial distribution of vegetation based on maps that resulted from the process of photo-interpretation of 1960, 1976, 1997 and 2012, as well as from the landscape index analysis. It concludes that during the study period, the vegetation changes have been minimal. Instead, in the few areas impacted by human activity (small-scale agriculture and pasture lands) an ecological restoration has occurred during recent decades. In addition, this research suggests that the recovering forest cover within the park and even within the Osa Peninsula has been expanding the cloud forest. An increase and contraction relationship between the different categories (Cloud forest and forests as well of flooded forest and forest in flat zones) was found. Furthermore, this study suggests the need of permanent plots in order to monitor vegetation and identify the factors that explain this previous process.

Keywords: Tropical rain forests, vegetation mapping, Corcovado National Park, monitoring land-use, vegetation categories