Mesoamerican Pine-Oak Forests

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Tropical forest Tikal, Guatemala.
© WWF-Canon / Stéfane MAURIS

About the Area

This Global ecoregion is made up of 6 terrestrial ecoregions: Chimalapas montane forests; Central American pine-oak forests; Sierra Madre del Sur pine-oak forests; Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt pine-oak forests; Sierra Madre de Oaxaca pine-oak forests; and Central American montane forests.

This ecoregion contains some of the world's most extensive subtropical coniferous forests. Mild temperatures prevail year-round, but the amount of precipitation varies widely from season to season.

The Chimalapas harbour an extremely unusual collection of plants and animals because of their location between Central America lowland and montane forests, and the rich highlands of Oaxaca and northern Mexico. Central American pine-oak forests support one of the world's richest assortments of conifers.

The Central American Montane Forests ecoregion is made up of forests occurring in patchy, island-like mosaics on the isolated tops and slopes of the highest mountains of Central America. Because of the uniqueness and isolation of each forest island, many of the species in this ecoregion can be found nowhere else on Earth.

Many plant and animal species are locally restricted in their distributions throughout the region, especially birds, conifers, reptiles, and amphibians.

Size:
294,000 sq. km (113,500 sq. miles)

Habitat type:
Tropical and Subtropical Coniferous Forests

Geographic Location:
Central America: Mexico, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador

Conservation Status:
Critical/Endangered

Local Species
Selected species include the almost certainly extinct imperial woodpecker (Campephilus imperialis), dwarf jay (Cyanocorax nana), cycad (Dioon tomasellii), volcano rabbit (Romerolagus diazi), and 2 species of wild maize (Zea perennisand and Z. diploperennis).

The temperate forests of the Sierra Madre del Sur are an unparalleled centre of endemism and biodiversity in Mexico. Many of the 350 species of orchids in this region can be found nowhere else in the world. This is one of the richest areas in butterfly species in the Mexican Pacific, with more than 160 species including the Pacific dotted-blue and Pacific orange tip butterflies.

Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt pine-oak forests represent a centre of diversity for at least 370 endemic plant and animal species. The highest diversity of reptiles and amphibians in the country is found here, and the intermontane lakes provide habitat to many endemic frogs and axolotls (primitive salamanders with gills). Monarch butterflies, which undertake the largest migratory route of all insects (4,000 km or 2,500 miles), spend winters hibernating in these cool and moist volcanic forests.

The Oaxaca pine-oak forests house the highest diversity of amphibians and reptiles in Mexico and support several birds endemic to the region, such as the grey-barred wren, the bearded wood-partridge, and the dwarf jay. At least 45 oak (Quercus) species grow here, as well as 2 highly endangered tree species, a firand and a cypress.
 / ©: WWF-Canon / Anthony B. RATH
The Pine forest covered hills surrounding the municipality of Santiago Comaltepec, Oaxaca, Mexico.
© WWF-Canon / Anthony B. RATH

Featured Species

 / ©: WWF-Canon / Helmut DILLER
Volcano rabbit (Romerolagus diazi) drawing.
© WWF-Canon / Helmut DILLER
The volcano rabbit (Romerolagus diazi) is the 2nd smallest rabbit after the pygmy rabbit. It weighs around 390 - 600g. It has small round ears and short legs. The fur is short and dense with the top and sides of the rabbit being dark brown to black.

It feeds on the green leaves of zacaton grasses, the young leaves of spiny herbs and the bark of alder trees. It is mostly nocturnal and crepuscular. It lives in groups of 2 - 5 animals in runways and burrows among grass tussocks and is restricted to the pine forests on volcanic peaks near Mexico City. Volcano rabbits can breed throughout the year, but there is a distinct reproductive peak in the warm, rainy summer.

A unique behavior of the volcano rabbit is the tendency to utter high-pitched, penetrating whistles. If alarmed the volcano rabbit gives a sharp call and hurries to a burrow.

It is listed as endangered by IUCN.

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Threats
Commercial logging, land conversion for cultivation, and overgrazing by livestock pose serious threats to the ecoregion. The Chimalapas montane forests are facing serious threats from logging and agricultural expansion. Many of these forests have almost vanished entirely. Plans for building a dam and a major highway threaten the largest fragments of undisturbed forests.

Fragmentation is a growing concern as remnant patches of natural habitat become smaller and further apart. Another growing problem is game hunting of wildlife such as paca, deer, tapir and monkeys for game meat, and the hunting of predators (ocelot, puma) to protect stock.

High levels of air pollution have also damaged the pine-oak forests surrounding Mexico City. Fire suppression is another problem for some fire-adapted forests, because fuels build up and the very hot fires kill trees.
WWF’s work
WWF, in collaboration with the Mexican Fund for the Conservation of Nature, has supported the new Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve, through the Monarch Butterfly Conservation Fund, an innovative conservation scheme to protect and restore the critical wintering habitat for the Monarch.

This new conservation scheme will help preserve the high-altitude pine and fir forest that serves as home to one of the most remarkable natural phenomena on the planet. The fund is a way to integrate community needs with conservation goals by:
  • Paying valid logging permit holders for the timber not harvested inside of the core zone of the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve.
  • Providing conservation service payments to communities to replace income lost from logging.
  • Providing the framework to support sustainable income generating projects in the buffer zone of the Reserve and to fund law enforcement activities.
Read more:

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