The numerous caves and river systems carve a unique backdrop for the Belizean Pine Forests ecoregion in an area otherwise surrounded mostly by dense lowland rainforests. Here, stands of palm trees prosper, uninhibited by dense forest canopies.
The endangered yellow-headed Amazon parrot is one of the native residents of these pine forests, only found here and in neighbouring areas of Mexico and Guatemala. Once widespread in Belize, it is now restricted to the pine-oak coastal forests because of habitat loss and poaching for illegal pet trade. This parrot makes itself at home in tree cavities and snags of palms.
This ecoregion is found almost entirely in Belize along the northwestern coast of the Caribbean. The forests on the northern plain and southern coast are on sandy soils and usually have less drainage than the more fertile soils in the centre of the country. A premontane area (700 m) with closed or semi-closed pine forests is located at the centre part of the ecoregion, including part of the Maya Mountains that host a high numbers of larger pine tree species.
This area intersects with some rainforests and can reach 2,000 mm in annual rainfall. Numerous irregular and smaller fragments that correspond to pine savanna with varying degrees of forest cover can be found in the southern coasts. Characteristic vegetation for the region includes Caribbean pine in the savannas, Mexican yellow pine in the premontane areas, and calabash tree, white oak species, nanche, and everglades palm.
The ecoregion hosts few endemic vegetation species. The dominating Caribbean pine is adapted to the area’s periodic forest fires, relying on them for regeneration. Mature trees are protected from flames by their thick barks. Although lacking in endemism, the ecoregion boasts a diverse collection of native Neotropical fauna. Nesting and migrating birds make this ecoregion their home, including the endangered yellow-headed amazon parrot and the Jabiru.
Primates up in the trees include Yucatan howler monkey and Geoffrey’s spider monkey. Belize also has the highest density of felines in Central America boasting jaguar, ocelot, puma, margay, and jaguarundi. Often hunted are white-lipped peccary and tapir. Along the coasts and rivers in the ecoregion, the vulnerable American crocodile, Mexican crocodile, and the critically endangered Central American river turtle can be found. The Maya mountains frog is the only endemic frog in this ecoregion.
Most of the pine forests within the ecoregion are in protected areas, but only a fraction of the pine savannas receive protection. Sustainable lumber operations are being carried out in the reserve in the Mountain Pine strip; at present it could ensure a long-term domestic supply of soft wood, without major environmental repercussions. The protected areas are relatively large relative to the ecoregion, including Mountain Ridge Pine Forests Reserve, and the environmental protection system is one of the best in the region.
Owing to this, threats to this ecoregion are relatively low. Significant efforts have been made to confine agricultural activities only to the most suitable lands. Nonetheless, increasing immigration of “squatters” into the area can exert pressure to wildlife consumption and agricultural expansion.
The priority conservation actions for the next decade will be to: 1) ensure that continued management and protection standards in the region are upheld; 2) implement sustainable measures in the growing agriculture sector; and 3) ensure all native vegetation types are equally represented in the protect areas system throughout the ecoregion to ensure diversity.
1. Andraka, S. Locklin, C. Schipper, J. 2019. Central America: Central Belize. https://www.worldwildlife.org/ecoregions/nt0302 Accessed June 26, 2019.
2. Perry, J.P. Jr., 1991. The Pines of Mexeco and Central America. Timber Press, Portland, Oregon.
3. Belize Biodiversity Information System. 1999. Available at http://fwie.fw.vt.edu/wcs/020400.HTM