Mesoamerican Gulf-Caribbean mangroves

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Aerial photo of mangrove fringed shoreline, northwest Panama. @ C.Michael Hogan

The Mesoamerican Gulf-Caribbean mangroves occupy a long expanse of disjunctive coastal zone along the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico for portions of Central America and Mexico.

The ecoregion has a very high biodiversity and species richness of mammals, amphibians and reptiles.

As with most mangrove systmems, the Mesoamerican Gulf-Caribbean ecoregion plays an important role in shoreline erosion prevention from Atlantic hurricanes and storms; in addition these mangroves are significant in their function as a nursery for coastal fishes, turtles and other marine organisms.

This mangrove ecoregion is threatened by development pressures along the coastline, chiefly by population expansion of indigenous peoples, but also by infrastructure to promote ecotourism.

Location and general description

caption Mesoamerican Gulf-Caribbean mangroves, in yellow. Source: WWF

This disjunctive Neotropical ecoregion is comprised of elements lying along the Gulf of Mexico coastline of Mexico south of the Tampico area, and along the Caribbean Sea exposures of Belize, Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama.

There are 507 distinct vertebrate species that have been recorded in the Mesoamerican Gulf-Caribbean mangroves ecoregion. Some of the Belizean central portion of the ecoregion is protected from high wave action by extensive off-shore near coastal coral reef formations. A similar functional type of storm surge protection exists off of Panama in the Bocas del Toro region, where an extensive archipelago protects the mainland shoreline and southern side of the islands.


caption Baird's Tapir. Source: Brian Gatwicke/EoL The Mesoamerican Gulf-Caribbean mangroves ecoregion has a number of mammalian species, including: Mexican Agouti (Dasyprocta mexicana, CR); Mexican Black Howler Monkey (Alouatta pigra, EN); Baird's Tapir (Tapirus bairdii, EN); Central American Spider Monkey (Ateles geoffroyi, EN); Giant Anteater (Myrmecophaga tridactyla); Deppe's Squirrel (Sciurus deppei), who ranges from Tamaulipas, Mexico to the Atlantic versanta region of land sloping in one general direction of Costa Rica; Jaguar (Panthera onca, NT), which requires a large home range and hence would typically move between the mangroves and more upland moist forests; Margay (Leopardus wiedii, NT); Mantled Howler Monkey (Alouatta palliata); Mexican Big-eared Bat (Plecotus mexicanus, NT), a species found in the mangroves, but who mostly roosts in higher elevation caves; Central American Cacomistle (Bassariscus sumichrasti), a carnivore found from southern Mexico to western Panama in upland as well as coastal forests.


caption Allen's Coral Snake. Source: Roy W. McDiarmid/EoL A number of reptiles have been recorded within the ecoregion including the Green Turtle (Chelonia mydas, EN); Hawksbill Sea Turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata, CR); Central American River Turtle (Dermatemys mawii, CR), distributed along the Atlantic drainages of southern Mexico to Guatemala; Morelets Crocodile (Crocodylus moreletii, LR/CD), a crocodile found along the mangroves of Yucatan, Belize and the Atlantic versant of Guatemala.

Some of the other reptiles found in this ecoregion are the Adorned Graceful Brown Snake (Rhadinaea decorata); Allen's Coral Snake (Micrurus alleni); Eyelash Palm Pitviper (Bothriechis schlegelii); False Fer-de-lance (Xenodon rabdocephalus); Blood Snake (Stenorrhina freminvillei); Bridled Anole (Anolis frenatus); Chocolate Anole (Anolis chocorum), found in Panamanian and Colombian lowland and mangrove subcoastal forests; Furrowed Wood Turtle (Rhinoclemmys areolata. NT); Brown Wood Turtle (LR/NT); Belize Leaf-toed Gecko (Phyllodactylus insularis), which occurs only in this ecoregion along with the Peten-Veracruz moist forests.


caption Lovely Poison Frog in the wild, Bocas del Toro. @ C. Michael Hogan Within the Mesoamerican Gulf-Caribbean mangroves ecoregion there are a number of anuranAn amphibian that has limbs but no tail (includes all frogs and toads) taxa present:

  • Elegant Narrowmouth Toad (Gastrophryne elegans);
  • Cane Toad (Rhinella marina); 
  • Gulf Coast Toad (Incilius valliceps);
  • Alfred's Rainfrog (Eleutherodactylus alfredi);
  • Sabinal Frog (Leptodactylus melanonotus);
  • Rusty Robber Frog (Strabomantis bufoniformis);
  • Almirante Robber Frog (Craugastor talamancae);
  • Broad-headed Rainfrog (Craguastor laticeps);
  • Izabal Robber Frog (Craugastor chac);
  • Rio Grande Frog (Lithobates berlandieri);
  • Northern Sheep Frog (Hypopachus variolosus);
  • Evergreen Robber Frog (Craugastor gollmeri), a limited range anuran that occurs only in lowland, mangrove and premontane forests of Caribbean versant Costa Rica and Panama;
  • Mexican Burrowing Frog (Rhinophrynus dorsalis), a highly fossorialan animal that engages in burrowing or living underground frog that only emerges from its burrow to breed;
  • San Miguel Island Frog (Leptodactylus insularum);
  • Central American Rainfrog (Craugastor rugulosus);
  • Fleishmann's Glass Frog (Hyalinobatrachium fleischmanni);
  • Confusing Poison Frog (Ameerega maculata), a rare anuran endemic to Panama;
  • White-lipped Frog (Leptodactylus labialis);
  • Mahogany Treefrog (Tlalocohyla loquax);
  • Painted Treefrog (Tlalocohyla picta);
  • Hourglass Treefrog (Dendropsophus ebraccatus);
  • San Carlos Treefrog (Dendropsophus phlebodes);
  • Blue-spotted Mexican Treefrog (Smilisca cyanosticta, NT);
  • New Granada Cross-banded Treefrog (Smilisca phaeota);
  • Panama Cross-banded Treefrog (Smilisca sila);
  • Mexican Treefrog (Smilisca baudinii) whose range extends well north of the ecoregion into Texas;
  • Pratt's Rocket Frog (Colostethus pratti);
  • Red-eyed Leaf Frog (Agalychnis callidryas);
  • Leprus Chirping Frog (Eleutherodactylus leprus, VU);
  • Caretta Robber Frog (Diasporus diastema), which is found from Nicaragua, to Costa Rica, in practically all the ecoregions of Panama and south to subcoastal Colombia;
  • Lovely Poison Frog (Phyllobates lugubris), which is found in leaf litter in lowland forests and mangroves along the Nicaraguan, Costa Rican and northwest Panama coastline.

caption Central American Worm Salamander. Source: Sean Michael Rovito/CalPhotos/EoL Salamanders found in this ecoregion are: Cukra Climbing Salamander (Bolitoglossa striatula); Rufescent Salamander (Bolitoglossa rufescens); Alta Verapaz Salamander (Bolitoglossa dofleini, NT), the largest tropical lungless salamander, whose coastal range spans Honduras, Guatemala and the Cayo District of Belize; Colombian Worm Salamander (Oedipina parvipes), which occurs from central Panama to Colombia; La Loma Salamander (Bolitoglossa colonnea), a limited range taxon occurring only in portions of Costa Rica and Panama;.Central American Worm Salamander (Oedipina elongata), who inhabits very moist habitats; Cienega Colorado Worm Salamander (Oedipina uniformis, NT), a limited range taxon found only in parts of Costa Rica and Panama, including higher elevation forests than the mangroves; Limon Worm Salamander (Oedipina alfaroi, VU), a restricted range caecilian found only on the Atlantic versant of Costa Rica and extreme northwest Panama. Caecilians found in the ecoregion are represented by: La Loma Caecilian (Dermophis parviceps), an organism found in the Atlantic versant of Panama and Costa Rica up to elevation 1200 metres.


Chief mangrove tree species found in the central portion of the ecoregion (e.g. Belize) are White Mangrove (Laguncularia racemosa), Red Mangrove (Rhizophora mangle), and Black Mangrove (Avicennia germinans); Buttonwood (Conocarpus erectus) is a related tree associate. Red mangrove tends to occupy the more seaward niches, while Black mangrove tends to dominate the more upland niches. Other plant associates occurring in this central part of the ecoregion are Swamp Caway (Pterocarpus officinalis), Provision Tree (Pachira auatica) and Marsh Fern (Acrostichum aureum).

Ecoregion threats

caption Shoreline development supplanting mangroves, Bastimentos Island, Panama. @ C.Michael Hogan Chief threats to this ecoregion are the burgeoning native human population, which is seeking out coastal habitation along the Atlantic versant from central Mexico to central Panama. Additionally the pressures of ecotourism are also taking a toll by development pressure for lodging, boat docks and other visitor serving infrastructure. In many cases disturbance and grading of sensitive mangrove habitats is occurring, with inadequate control over soil erosion and subsequent sedimentation of surface waters.

Reconciliation to other regional mangrove units

The Belizean coast mangroves ecoregion can be considered as a subunit of the Mesoamerican Gulf-Caribbean mangroves ecoregion; this Belizean unit is limited to the mangrove forests in the coastal zone of Belize. Occasionally the Bahamian mangroves are viewed as a partial overlap to the Mesoamerican Gulf-Caribbean mangroves ecoregion; the centroid of the Bahamian mangroves are the fringes of over 3000 low-lying Caribbean Islands, but sometimes portions of the American mainland with a maximum elevation of less than 60 metres is considered as a part of the Mesoamerican Gulf-Caribbean mangroves.


  • Les Beletsky and David Beadle. 2005. Belize & Northern Guatemala. Interlink Books. 477 pages
  • William G. D'Arcy, D. Mireya and A. Correa. 1985. The Botany and Natural History of Panama, Universidad de Panamá. , 455 pages
  • Ecoregional Workshop: A Conservation Assessment of Mangrove Ecoregions of Latin America and the Caribbean. 1994. Washington D.C., World Wildlife Fund.
  • Scott Frazier. 1999. editor. A directory of wetlands of international importance designated under the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance (Ramsar, 1971). Compiled by Wetlands International for the Seventh Meeting of the Conference of Contracting Parties to the Ramsar Convention, San José, Costa Rica, May 1999.
  • D.T. Gerace, G.K. Ostrander, and G.W. Smith. 1998. San Salvador, Bahamas. B. Kjerfve, editor. CARICOMP: Caribbean coral reef, seagrass and mangrove sites. Coastal region and small island papers 3, UNESCO, Paris, xiv + 347 pp.
  • D.M. Olson, E. Dinerstein, G. Cintrón, and P. Iolster. 1996. A conservation assessment of mangrove ecosystems of Latin America and the Caribbean. Final report for The Ford Foundation. World Wildlife Fund, Washington, D.C.
  • World Wildlife Fund. 2013. Map of Mesoamerican Gulf-Caribbean mangroves ecoregion.


Hogan, C. (2013). Mesoamerican Gulf-Caribbean mangroves. Retrieved from http://www.eoearth.org/view/article/51cbfb967896bb431f6bfd52