Open access peer-reviewed chapter

Introductory Chapter: Biodiversity of Mexico

By Levente Hufnagel and Ferenc Mics

Submitted: May 31st 2021Reviewed: June 2nd 2021Published: August 18th 2021

DOI: 10.5772/intechopen.98690

Downloaded: 58

1. Introduction

1.1 Flora, fauna and vegetation

Mesoamerica (starting from the southern states of Mexico) differs from Central America, which is a geopolitical name. The expression “Middle America” is in use as well, which involves all areas south from the border of the US including the Islands of the Caribbean [1]. In this chapter the biodiversity of Mexico is presented and the literature on its protection is analyzed.

Mexico being the largest country in the region is very rich in species in itself (Tables 14). Lot of species occur even in the dry northern areas. In the Chihuahuan Desert 826 plant species are noted by Villarreal-Quintanilla et al. [7], out of which 560 are endemic, 165 are quasi-endemic and és 176 are microendemic. 116 taxa can be originated from a non-arid habitat. The most species-rich are Cactaceae with 141, Asteraceae with 106, Boraginaceae with 34 and Brassicaceae with 31 species. On the California Peninsula 723 endemic species are noted by Riemann and Exequiel [8], claiming that the great number of endemic species is due to the heterogenity of the environment. The flora and fauna are very interesting because the area of Mexico involves the border of Neotropisand Nearctis(Mexican Transition Zone), which is not exactly a border but rather a wide transition zone, its accurate definition is yet to be created. The determinaion is based on the distribution of the endemic genera characteristic to one or the other area. The several results obtained regarding this vary hugely. The determination of the location and width of the transition zone is different among authors without a consensus, which requires further floristic examinations [9]. Vegetatio varies depending on the topography that has a great role in the fromation of the great number of endemic species as well [10]. The climate formed by the emerging mountains (Sierra Madre Oriental, Sierra Madre Occidental, Trans-Mexico Volcanic Belt) also affects evolutionary processes resulting in the development of new species [11, 12]. The richness of species and the species composition of the community depends on the heterogenity and diversity of the environment [10]. As Moonlight et al. [13] presents on the example of Begoniagenus regarding the DNA sequence data of the plastis diversification is fast and new species develop in the hetrogeneous environment. According to their results there were two indipendent colonization events from Africa towards the Neotropis. Two different clads were reconstructed, which diversified around the middle of miocene in South America and radiation occurred once towards Central America and Mexico.

GroupNumber of species worldwideNumber of species in MexicoWorldwide/Mexico
Number of endemic speciesEndemic species %
Vascular plants248 42818000–300007–1210000–1500033–50

Table 1.

Biodiversity of Mexico according to Mittermeier et al. [2].

Vegetation% areaNumber of speciesEndemisms %
Cloud forest0.7300030
Pine and oak12.9700070
Xerophyl and steppe34.8600060
Tropical deciduous7.9600040
Agricultural and ruderalND200020

Table 2.

Flora of Mexico according to vegetation types based on Flores-Villela and Gerez [3].

Biom/ecoregionsArea (km2)Estimated number of speciesRemaining intact vegetation %
Tropical and Subtropical Moist Broadleaf Forests
Chiapas moist forests57593000–450067
Chimalpas montane forests20762000–300049
Pantanos de Centla171521500–300011
Petén-Veracruz moist forests1486045000–800031
Sierra de los Tuxtlas38902400–350011
Sierra Madre de Chiapas moist forests112183500–470034
Veracruz moist forests689494500–700020
Veracruz montane forests49422200–350055
Yucatán moist forests694851300–190064
Tropical and Subtropical Dry Broadleaf Forests
Bajío dry forests372822900–50000,64
Balsas dry forests622492500–51002
Central American dry forests677772800–40012
Chiapas Depression dry forests139741500–35007
Jalisco dry forests260511000–250026
Revillagigedo Islands dry forests210NDND
Sierra de la Laguna dry forests3975500–10000,008
Sinaloan dry forests773641700–250013
Sonoran-Sinaloan transition subtropical dry forest50326NDND
Southern Pacific dry forests422832500–510015
Veracruz dry forests6616900–20005
Tropical and Subtropical Coniferous Forests
Central American pine-oak forests1109484000–600042
Sierra de la Laguna pine-oak forests1061700–12004
Sierra Juárez and San Pedro Mártir pine-oak forests4000NDND
Sierra Madre de Oaxaca pine-oak forests142992500–370055
Sierra Madre del Sur pine-oak forests609763600–500043
Sierra Madre Occidental pine-oak forests222700NDND
Sierra Madre Oriental pine-oak forests65600NDND
Trans-Mexican volcanic belt pine-oak forests918004000–600026
Tropical and Subtropical Grasslands, Savannas, and Shrublands
Western Gulf coastal grasslands774252150–22503
Deserts and Xeric Shrublands
Baja California desert459401500–22008
Central Mexican matorral591952500–45000,011
Chihuahuan desert5018963300–360050
Gulf of California xeric shrub22573900–190029
Meseta Central matorral1249753000–45004
San Lucan xeric scrub3685ND12
Sonoran desert2600002600–300037
Tamaulipan matorral163001500–25009
Tamaulipan mezquital1415001700–250023
Tehuacan Valley matorral98420
Flooded Grasslands and Savannas
Central Mexican wetlands259100–600ND
Montane Grasslands and Shrublands
Alvarado mangroves453420–4001,12
Marismas Nacionales-San Blas mangroves203420–400
Mayan Corridor mangroves407920–400
Mexican South Pacific Coast mangroves116820–400
Petenes mangroves197120–400
Ría Lagartos mangroves345720–400
Tehuantepec-El Manchon mangroves268520–400
Usumacinta mangroves311820–400
Mediterranean Forests, Woodlands, and Scrub
California chaparral and woodlands1210001550–17501

Table 3.

Bioms and ecoregions of Mexico according to Kier et al. [4] and Dinerstein et al. [5].

San Luis Potosí46993
Edo. México28155
Nuevo León25263
Baja California29295
Quintana Roo34051
Distrito Federal22244
Baja California Sur25877

Table 4.

Bird and mammalian fauna of Mexico according to CONABIO [6] (National Commission for knowledge and use of biodiversity) by states. In coastal states marine mammals are included.

Today tropical deciduous forest is typical on the western side but it is fragmented due to human activity and only 3% is protected. Agriculutal areas are concentrated in areas where the climate is seasonal that is why the reduction is faster than in the case of rainforests [14]. 10% and 19.7% of tropical forest and shrubland, respecively are protected. On the east side 28% of the rainforests are protected (Estado [15]). Examinations of flora and fauna are still not complete, our knowledge on the wildlife of the area is deficient [16, 17]. New species are still identified in Mexico such as Tryonia(Caenogastropoda: Cochliopidae) species discovered by Hershler et al. [18] in the creeks of the Chihuahuan Desert (Durango State). Some of these probably have become extinct since they were failed to be found again. The cause of their extinction is the destruction and disappearance of their habitat. According to forcasts the average annual temperature will rise by 3,7–3,8°C to 2090 in Mexico, the amount of precipitation will reduce by 18,2% and AAI (Annual Aridity Index) will rise by 26% [19]. These will result in a 25% decrease in the value of ENS (effective number of species), if the forcasts prove to be accurate [20]. Characteristic plants of Mexico the cacti (Cactaceae) can also become rare by then due to land transforming activity of man, 31% of the species are already endangered. Climate change may cause other species to become endangered. Cacti are drought tolerant but because of climate change species may become endangered due to the reduction or extinction of pollinators and animals dispersing seeds. In the case of cacti often ants carry the seeds (Myrmecochory) only to limited distances. Many species have a small area of distribution (75–100 km2) as well, making them particularly vulnerable [21]. A remarkable example of the destruction of human activity to habitat is the wall that is being built on the border of the US and Mexico, which parts that have already been set up initiated the reduction of size, quality and connections of habitat in the otherwise diverse area [22]. Migration of many amphibian, reptile and mammal species are hindered by the barrier and human activity. This becomes relevant when certain species look for new habitat due to climate change. Obstructing their movement endanger species or certain popoulations. The genetic diversity of species reduce with the extinction of populations endangering the entire species [23].


2. Environmental protection and biodiversity conservation

Since the nineties Mexico have been involved in the work of international environmental organizations with increasing activity and now have signed 44 international agreements. It is an active stakeholder of organizations such as the CBD (Convention on Biological Diversity) and CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), CEC (Commission for Environmental Cooperation), Trilateral Committee, The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, EMSA (Mesoamerican Biological Corridor and the Mesoamerican Strategy of Environmental Sustainability). The NDP (National Development Plan) can be considered as a legal framework within the country providing basic regulations for the federal government by giving guidance for the work of the government with the development of clear strategies, setting regional aims and measures to be implemented, coordinating institutional and regional programs involving several areas [24].

The program, in which Mexico also participates, aiming to preserve biodiversity is the Payments for Ecosystem Services (PES) that is an economic framework to plan and introduce payment schemes that provide market remuneration for ecosystem services [25]. This tool seems to be eligible for the protection of rainforests in the developing countries. 2.6 million hectares are involved in the program in Mexico, which in terms of money means 450 million USD and this is one of the biggest among such programs in the world [26]. With these territories approximately 25% of the biodiversity that needs protection is now included in the program [27]. According to Honey-Rosés et al. [28] 3–16% more forest were managed to be preserved along with those habitats that these forests include. Deforestation in those areas that are involved in the program is carried out at a slower rate, than in those that are not invovled. This can be beneficial to the population and to the owners of the forests as well since it can lead to other income sources, such as with the development of ecotourism. In the protected areas it is also important to invovle local residents and educate them on the importance of wildlife protection since mostly they only experience difficulties in accessing their resources [29, 30].

In order to preserve at least some part of biodiversity a system of protected areas is required. Determination of the most valuable protected areas can be carried out by ecological modeling. Torres-Miranda et al. [31] used red oaks and their distribution area to estimate (section Lobatae; 75 species) those area that worth the most concerning protection.These species representing ecosystems prove to be useful indicators for conservation professionals.These species occur in various habitats often as dominant species and have an important part in preserving diversity. Based on a computer simulation (Complementarity analyses) 12 current areas under protection should be enlarged and 26 new should be established with a total of 512 500 ha area to ensure adequate protection for habitats. Certain species, especially arthropods bond to certain plant communities. With the protection of fast reducing oak forests species bonded to them can also be preserved [32].

An experiment in the Tehuacán Valley showed that biodiversity is preserved with greater succes in areas under forest management than in areas that are not involved. Although, preserving rare species is limited even in this system. In average 59% of plant species and 94% of the genetic variety of dominant species (Polaskia chichipe, Escontria chiotilla, Myrtillocactus schenckii) was managed to be preserved in the examined area. In areas that are not involved the remaining natural flora decrease fast due to the increasing intensity of agriculture [33]. The number of species that can be preserved depends on whether the areas in question are private or community properties, also on the availability of natural resources, ecosystem services to people, as well as on the culture of certain communities. Ornamental or herbal species and those that are used for human or animal nutrition tend to be preserved even if the area gets involved in agriculture. Lanes dividing plots and islands within the agricultural area promote later regeneration [34]. Traditional methods of agriculture have less harmful effects on biodiversity than the current intensive mechanized agriculture. In the state of Oaxaca indigenous people have been carrying out agricultural production for centuries, which lead to a mosaic landscape with patches of forest and agricultural land. Nowadays due to urbanization more and more people give up farming and move to cities. On lands left behind a secondary forest forms, which surprisingly lead to the decrease of biodiversity.

3. Agricultural aspects

Traditional agriculture plays a part in sustaining biodiversity, since the landscape renews regularly. Traditional farming also has to be considered in the decision making process related to protected area [35]. Larios et al. [36] also claim that traditional farming has a great role in the preservation of biodiversity. According to a survey carried out in the area of the Tehuacán Valley 281vascular plants were identified even in the gardens out of which 34% were endemic. Though abundance of cultivated plants was the largest. The highest value (199) was found in gardens lying near the cloud forests in the mountains. The lowest valule (141) was found in those that are located near deciduous forests. This can be explained by the tendency that owners cultivate plants in their own land to compensate the rarity of useful species in the nearby forests.

An agricultural effort to protect the diversity of the species is the production of shade-grown coffee [37]. With the production of shade-grown coffee most of biodiversity can be preserved since a proportion of the original vegetation survives. Coffee produced with this method has a high price, which can encourage more and more people to choose this cultivation method. Cultivation area is increasing unfortunately to the detriment of the primary forest, thus in its current form this is not the appropriate method to preserve biodiversity [38]. For the protection of marine ecosystems aquaculture is spreading in Mexico as well regarding both fishes and marine invertebrates. The development of the technology means income for the economy and wildlife can also be protected since the importance of illegal fishing decreases. Aquacultural production can mean a legal income source for the local people, while overfishing and the decrease of biodiversity can be avoided [39].

Phytoremediation plays and important part in the region as well in the nutralisation of industrial pollutants, therefore the research of those organizations are important, which can be used for this purpose [40]. An abandoned mine in the state of Hidalgo was recultivated and the area was reforested. 56 species representing 29 families were managed to be planted. Samples of AMF (Arbuscular Mycorrhizal Fungi) from tree roots Glomus(Glomeraceae: Glomerales) and Acaulospora(Acaulosporaceae: Diversisporales) species were the most common. These have a great role in phytoremediation due to incereasing the trees tolerance against heavy metals in the extreme environment, as well as decreasing the distribution of toxic subsatnces in the environment [41]. Harmful effects of industrial pollutants can be reduced by phytoremediation, therefore it serves the protection of wildlife. Regarding the big biodiversity of the area it is likely that new species will be found to be suitable for this purpose. There is another example of a microbial scale biodiversity research with direct economic benefits. Diversity of bacteria and fungi living around cultivated Agave tequilanaroots in the soil, rizosphere and phyllosphere, in the endosphere of the root and the leaf was compared by Coleman-Derr et al. [42] with similar microbes of wild Agave salmianaand Agave desertipopulations. Agave tequilanacan be cultivated in areas where no other crop can survive and can be used for bioethanol production. Symbiotic microorganisms influence plant health and accomodation to stress due to this the rate of growth as well [43]. Manipulation of microbiom may increase the rate of growth and therefore, the amount of ethanol that can be produced [44]. The composition of the microorganism community based on the analysis of the traceable DNA changes depending on the compartment, which was obtained by the amplification of ITS2 and16S regions. Geographical distributation also affected composition. In the case of cultivated plants alpha diversity was low, which can be explained with agricultural practices.The community is dominated by the genera of Enterobacteriaceae family (Pantoea, Leclercia, Trabusiella), therefore soft rot disease became often, which cost millions. Genetic diversity of plants is also low due to vegetative reproduction. That is why the bacteria Pantoea agglomeranscould develop avoiding strategies during the evolution against the plants defense mechanisms [42]. Apart from agave, oil pressed from the seed of Jatropha(Euphorbiaceae) species, especially from the seed of J. curcas, is also appropriate for the production of biodiesel [45]. 50 of the 186 species occur in Mexico as well, most of which are endemic. They are distributed from the rainforests to the deserts everywhere. Their distribution is limited by the frost in the mountains. Other species may be eligible for agricultural use, which require further research [46].

Area, estimated number of species and percentage of remaining intact vegetation. The boundaries of ecoregions are not the same as national borders.

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Levente Hufnagel and Ferenc Mics (August 18th 2021). Introductory Chapter: Biodiversity of Mexico, Natural History and Ecology of Mexico and Central America, Levente Hufnagel, IntechOpen, DOI: 10.5772/intechopen.98690. Available from:

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