For centuries, big-leaf mahogany (Swietenia macrophylla) has been sought, traded and used for the manufacture of wood products of high quality, beauty and durability.
But today, this canopy-emergent tree - it rises above other trees that form the forest canopy - is the only remaining member of the genus Swietenia that is commercially available. This makes it perhaps one of the most commercially important trees in the Amazon.
Besides forest conversion for other land uses, illegal logging and unregulated trade pose major threats to populations of this species, potentially exhausting commercial supplies of this valuable timber in the future.
Sharp population declines
Mahogany (known as caoba throughout much of Latin America, as mogno in Brazil, mara in Bolivia, and ahuano in Ecuador) is patchily distributed from southern Mexico through Central and into South America, to its southern limits in Bolivia and Brazil.
While information on mahogany inventories and status is incomplete, indications of sharp population declines and increased fragmentation are evident.
Population reductions in Central America are estimated at over 70% since 1950 and the species is reported to be commercially extinct in El Salvador, Costa Rica and in parts of South America such as Mato Grosso in Brazil, and Beni in Bolivia.
Deforestation has reduced big-leaf mahogany ranges by over 60% in Central America and by 30% in South America. Natural forests have been the prime target for the exploitation of mahogany because long-term efforts to grow the species in plantations have been mostly unsuccessful.
Big-leaf mahogany is classified as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List 2002 and is listed on Appendix II of CITES.