Tropical tropical montane cloud forests (TMCFs) cover a small portion of the Earth, yet they are significant biodiversity hotspots and centres of endemism, and they provide important hydrological and biogeochemical functions that affect human livelihoods. Given their fundamental sensitivity to climate, TMCFs also serve as an early warning system for climate change impacts. This paper outlines a new international initiative, CloudNet, that aims to promote integrated research across TMCFs, and introduces a special issue that reviews emerging themes and topics in the ecology of TMCFs, highlighting knowledge gaps and suggesting new directions for research. CloudNet is helping coordinate several new research projects and protocols: (1) a global repository of TMCF data and meta-analyses across multiple sites; (2) a multi-site study of plant functional traits across TMCFs; (3) a multi-site study of decomposition processes across TMCFs; (4) a protocol for standardizing climate data collection across TMCFs. These studies are intended to evaluate the extent to which general patterns emerge, accounting for biogeographic, phylogenetic and environmental differences among sites. Common data collection across TMCFs should also allow better integration across disciplines, such as linking nutrient limitation, seed production and propagule recruitment, and enable cross-site comparisons of how TMCFs respond to drivers of global change, including rising cloud bases, increasing temperatures, altered disturbance regimes, biological invasions and extinction, and changing human land use.