The Petén-Veracruz moist forests is a moist broadleaf forest ecoregion in generally mountainous terrain that extends from northern Belize northward through parts of Guatemala and into southern Mexico. This forested ecoregion covers an area of approximately 149,100 square kilometres. Endemism of this ecoregion is relatively low, but species richness is high.
This ecoregion is critically endangered due to relentless encroachment of the human population, particularly from the overpopulated portions of the forests that lie in Guatemala and southern Mexico; conversely, the nation of Belize has kept its population within the land's carrying capacity and has a strong national ethic of environmental protection.
The Petén-Veracruz moist forests generally extend eastward to the Gulf of Mexico; however where the Pantanos de Centla ecoregion lies along the southern Mexican Caribbean coast, producing an ecological transition to the Gulf frontage. At the south the Petén-Veracruz moist forests are bounded by a broad coastal plain and southern foothills of the Mayan Mountains; the Belizean pine forest ecoregion is established at this southern limit, although much of the pine forest here presents as a savanna. At the northeast limit of the Petén-Veracruz moist forests, this ecoregion is bounded by the Yucatan dry forests in Mexico.
Geology and Hydrology
Secluded waterfall, Cockscomb Basin Wildlife
Sanctuary. @ C.Michael Hogan Soils within the Petén-Veracruz moist forests are relatively rich in nutrients compared to other tropical regions; this fact may help in explaining the early advanced civilisations of the Maya people in this area.
There are numerous rivers and lakes within the ecoregion; in some cases the rivers penetrate limestone karst strata and produce spectacular underwater river caverns. Major southern rivers in the Belize portion of the ecoregion include the Mopan and Macal Rivers; the Macal cuts through dense jungle, and provided the chief transportation link for ancient Mayans in the region.
The Guatemalan portion of the ecoregion holds a number of significant size lakes; Lake Petén Itzá, for example, is the secondd largest lake of Guatemala and is the site of a major butterfly reserve.
Moist forest of the Maya Mountains, Belize. @ C.Michael Hogan
Common tree species in the Maya Mountains area include Cohune palm (Orbigyna cohune), Ironwood (Dialium guianense), Mountain negrito (Simarouba amara), Quamwood (Schizolobium parahybum), as well as tree ferns such as Cyathea mysuroides and Hemitelia multiflora.
Numerous bird taxa are found in this ecoregion. The Scarlet macaw (Ara macao) is found broadly in Central America's moist forests and is well represented in the Maya Mountains and further north in the ecoregion. Another broadly distributed tropical bird found in the ecoregion is the Mealy Parrot (Amazona farinosa), which is one of the largest parrots of the Americas.
The ecoregion boasts numerous reptiles, including one of the world's most venomous snakes, the Yellow-jaw tommygoff (Botrups asper); this species is both aggressive and highly lethal, with an unusually vivid sexual dimorphism, the female displaying much greater size than the male. A number of lizards inhabit the ecoregion, including the rather common lizard of the ecoregion that also occurs in neighbouring dry forests, the Striped basilisk (Basiliscus vittatus); this olive brown species is noted for the male’s large flaplike crest that is supported by flexible cartilage. A more notable lizard of the Atlantic slopes of the ecoregion is Hernandez’s helmeted basilisk (Corytophanes hernandezii); this reddish brown reptile sits quietly with its cryptic colouration to avoid predation. The Yucatan banded gecko (Coleonyx elegans) is the only gecko of the region with well developed eyelids; this gecko is entirely terrestrial, where he forages for small arthropods among the moist forest floor litter.
Basis of Delineation
This ecoregion has been designated by the World Wildlife Fund as NT0154, although caution should be used in consulting their database since they have used the ecoregion name in some places interchangably with the separate ecoregion of Veracruz moist forests.
- Jonathan A.Campbell. 1999. Amphibians and Reptiles of Northern Guatemala, the Yucatan, and Belize. University of Oklahoma Press. 400 pages
- Gonzalo Castro and Ilana Locker. 2000. Mapping conservation investments: an assessment of biodiversity funding in Latin America and the Caribbean. Biodiversity Support Program. 79 pages
- C.Michael Hogan. 2007. Lubaantun. The Megalithic Portal. ed. A.Burnham
Roger Tory Peterson, Edward L. Chalif. 1999. A Field Guide to Mexican Birds: Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 320 pages
Disclaimer: This article contains information that was originally published by the World Wildlife Fund. Topic editors and authors for the Encyclopedia of Earth have edited its content and added new information. The use of information from the World Wildlife Fund should not be construed as support for or endorsement by that organization for any new information added by EoE personnel, or for any editing of the original content.