Ecosystems of Mexico: types and characteristics

Ecosystems of Mexico: types and characteristics
Posted on 27-02-2022

Ecosystems of Mexico

The ecosystems of Mexico comprise a set of geographical zones with common physical and biological characteristics of the country. It is important to remember that ecosystems are open and dynamic systems, where living beings interact with each other and with their environment.

Mexico is rich in a great variety of ecosystems, due to:

  • its geological history,
  • its intermediate biogeographical position,
  • its climatological heterogeneity, and
  • high biological diversity.

Classification of the ecosystems of Mexico

The diversity of ecosystems in the Mexican territory allows us to classify them into:

  • Tropical terrestrial ecosystems: tall and medium evergreen forests, low and medium deciduous forests, spiny forests, scrublands, grasslands.
  • Temperate terrestrial ecosystems: coniferous forests, oak forests, mixed forests, cloud forests, scrublands, grasslands.
  • Underground ecosystems: caves and grottoes.
  • Coastal aquatic ecosystems: mangroves, beaches, and dunes, coastal lagoons, estuaries, salt marshes.
  • Marine aquatic ecosystems: reefs and coral communities, islands, seagrass beds, seabeds (benthos).

Main types of ecosystems in Mexico

mexican ecosystem

Distribution map of current ecosystems in Mexico.

Characteristics of the ecosystems of Mexico

Below we present the distinctive characteristics of different types of ecosystems in Mexico.

Xeric scrub

xeric scrub

Catavina region in Baja California

Xeric scrublands are characterized by shrubs that dominate the arid and semi-arid climates of Mexico. It currently covers 508,958 km 2, almost 30% of the country's surface. We can get them at:

  • the Mexican Highlands,
  • the coastal plains of the states of Tamaulipas and Sonora,
  • the Baja California Peninsula and
  • an important part of the Tehuacán-Cuicatlán Valley in the states of Puebla and Sonora.

Flora and fauna in thickets

Small, spaced shrubs predominate, such as the woody shrub "la governora" ( Larrea tridentata ), succulents, and semi-succulents of the Cactaceae family ( Opuntia sp .), magueys, and mezcals such as the maguey lechuguilla ( Agave lechuguilla ) native to Mexico.

temperate forests

temperate forests

Zempoala Lagoon, state of Morelos.

Mexico's temperate forests are found in the mountainous areas along the Sierra Madre Occidental, Sierra Madre Oriental, Sierra Madre del Sur, and southern Chiapas. They represent just over 16% of the country's area. They are divided into sub-humid temperate climate forests (more extensive) and humid temperate climate forests, of which we can mention:

  • coniferous forests (pine, fir or oyamel, ayarin, cedar or táscate),
  • broadleaf forests (oaks) and
  • mixed pine-oak forests.

Temperatures can be between 12 and 23ºC on average and annual rainfall is 600 to 1000 mm. The soils are rich in organic matter.

Flora and fauna of temperate forests

The dominant species in these systems are pines ( Pinus spp.) and oaks ( Quercus spp .). There is also a great variety of mushrooms, such as the sheep mushroom ( Russula brevipes ), the yolk mushroom ( Amanita cesarean ), and the Duraznillo ( Cantharellus cibarius ).

Among the native animals of Mexico we can mention:

  • the white-tailed deer ( Odocoileus virginianus),
  • the mountain rabbit ( Sylvilagus floridanus),
  • the Picote tequila fish ( Zoogoneticus tequila), and
  • the Chegua fish ( Alloophorus robustus).

dry jungles

dry jungles

Sumidero Canyon National Park, Chiapas.

Dry forests are also known as low deciduous forests or tropical deciduous forests. They are characterized by small trees that lose their leaves during the dry season of the year. They occupy approximately 12% of the surface of Mexico and are distributed on the Pacific slope from southern Sonora and southwestern Chihuahua to Chiapas.

Precipitation varies between 300 mm and a maximum of 1,800 mm with dry months between December and May.

Flora and fauna of the dry forests

Of the plants identified in these ecosystems, 40% are endemic and adapted to drought.

Among the plants are the mountain papaya ( Jacaratia mexicana ), the columnar cacti ( Neobuxbaumia spp .), the copal santo ( Bursera bipinnata ), the cocoyul palm ( Acrocomia aculeata ), the Bamel ( Brahea dulcis ) and the Ramón ( Brosimum alicastrum ).

Among the animals are the northern Tamandúa anteater or strong-arm ( Tamandua mexicana ), the raccoon ( Procyon lotor ), the nine-banded armadillo ( Dasypus novemcinctus ), and the ocelot ( Leopardus pardalis ). Endemic birds are the pale chachalaca ( Ortalis poliocephala ) and the citrine Coa ( Trogon citreolus ).

Tropical forests (jungles)

The tropical forests of Mexico have distributed mainly on the slope of the Gulf of Mexico: Veracruz, southwestern Campeche, and portions of Tabasco. Along the Pacific slope in the Sierra Madre del Sur in Oaxaca and Guerrero. It covers about 5% of the territory.

high evergreen forest

high evergreen forest

Chiapas jungle.

The high evergreen forests or tropical evergreen forests are plant communities made up of trees that do not lose their leaves, approximately 30 m tall, trunks with a diameter between 65-75 cm, of lianas, epiphytes, and palms. In Mexico, it is distributed almost exclusively on the Atlantic slope and in a narrow strip of the Pacific slope of the Sierra Madre de Chiapas.

Rainfall is above 2000 mm per year and the temperature exceeds 18 ºC. An example of a high evergreen forest is found in the Edward James Sculpture Garden in Xilitla, San Luís Potosí.

These ecosystems have a great richness of species. The best-known trees are:

  • mahogany ( Swietenia macrophyla),
  • the pochote or ceiba ( Ceiba pentandra),
  • cocoa ( Theobroma cacao),
  • soursop ( Annona muricata).
  • The yellow cortés ( Terminalia amazonia).
  • The zopo or zope stick ( Guatteria anomala).

Among the palms is the tepejilote ( Chamaedorea tepejilote ) and the chocho ( Astrocaryum mexicanum ).

The jungle is the habitat of a great diversity of animals. Mammals include the spider monkey ( Ateles geoffrogyi ), the tepescuintle ( Agouti paca ), and the golden opossum ( Caluromys derbianus ). In the Aves class the scarlet macaw ( Ara macao ) is in danger of extinction in Mexico, the Canoa-billed toucan ( Ramphastos sulfuratus ), and the King Vulture ( Sarcoramphus papa ). The boa or mazacuata ( Boa constrictor ), the iguana ( Iguana iguana ), other snakes and lizards, as well as insects and amphibians swarm the jungles.

Tropical rainforest

Tropical rainforest

The Astrocaryum mexicanum palm is abundant in the region of Los Tuxtlas, Veracruz.

Humid tropical forests are distributed worldwide in the intertropical region, between 0 and 1,200 m above sea level and with values ​​greater than 2,000 mm of annual precipitation. The humid tropical forest in Mexico has a total extension of 98,983 km 2. The most representative example is found in the Los Tuxtlas region, in the state of Veracruz.

The Astrocaryum mexicanum palm is the most abundant species.



Grassland in the Sierra Purica, Sonora.

Grasslands or zacatales occupy 6% of the Mexican territory, predominantly in the north of the country, between 1000 and 2500 m. They are distributed in semi-arid and cold temperate climate zones, with rainfall of 300-600 mm. It is characterized by pastures with few trees and shrubs.

Grasslands are considered one of the most threatened ecosystems in North America. The largest in Mexico are found in the states of Sonora, Chihuahua, Durango, Coahuila, Zacatecas and San Luís Potosí.

Flora and fauna of grasslands

Among the herbaceous, we get the Navajita Grass ( Bouteloua gracilis), the Buffalo Grass ( Buchloe dactyloides ), the Llanero Grass ( Eragrotis intermedia ). Among the trees, we find the sweet mesquite ( Prosopis glandulosa ).

The prairie dog ( Cynomys mexicanus ) is a rodent endemic to Mexico that belongs to the squirrel family. The Tlalcoyote ( Taxidea taxus ) is a carnivorous mammal of the weasel family. The burrowing owl ( Athene cunicularia ) is a predatory bird in the owl family.

Mangrove swamp

mangrove swamp

Celestun Mangrove, Yucatan.

Mangroves are coastal wetlands whose plant formation is woody, dense, arboreal, or shrubby from 1 to 30 meters high, composed of one or several species of mangrove with little presence of herbs and vines. Mangroves are trees with adaptations to living in tidal and flooded places.

In Mexico they are found on the Atlantic and Pacific coastlines and four mangrove species predominate:

  • Red mangrove Rhizophora mangle,
  • white mangrove Laguncularia racemosa,
  • black mangrove Avicennia germinansand
  • buttonwood mangrove Conocarpus erectus.

There are mangroves in El Conchalito (Baja California Sur), Las Guásimas (Sonora), Teacapán-Agua Brava (Nayarit), Barra de Tecoanapa (Guerrero), Sontecomapan and La Mancha (Sonora), Laguna de Terminos and Los Petenes (Campeche). Since 2005, the Mangrove Monitoring System of Mexico has collected information to improve the management of this ecosystem.

seagrass meadows

seagrass meadows

The Hippocampus Erectus seahorse is native to Mexico.

Seagrass beds are characterized by plants submerged under seawater (marine angiosperms). In Mexico, they are found in estuaries, marshes, coastal lagoons, and in all the seas that surround the country.

Flora and fauna in the seagrass meadows

The predominant seagrass species is the Zostera marina. This species is the main food source for migratory birds and fish, crabs, shrimp, and clams. The Hippocampus Erectus seahorse is native to Mexico.


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