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Tropical Forest Ecosystems

EcoLogic works in a variety of tropical forest ecosystems across Central America and Mexico, which are habitats to thousands of different species of plants and animals and play an important role in the fight to slow climate change. Forests also provide natural resources for the communities living nearby, and these peoples often have deep spiritual and practical connections to their land dating back many generations. However, these forests are extremely vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and are rapidly being depleted due to human activity, which drives EcoLogic’s mission and work.

Tropical Forest Ecosystems

EcoLogic currently has eight active projects across Central America and Mexico, representing a variety of tropical forest ecosystems. EcoLogic works in these tropical forest ecosystems because they are extremely vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, and are also rapidly being destroyed due to human activities such as deforestation, population growth, and unsustainable agricultural methods that may yield short-term gain but cause damage in the longer term.

Why is protecting and restoring tropical forests so important? These tropical forests are some of the most biologically diverse ecosystems in the world, and their impact is significant on both a local and global scale. For instance, tropical forests like those found in Mesoamerica and Panama function as carbon sinks, absorbing the carbon dioxide added to our atmosphere when fossil fuels are burned. In addition, the forests, wetlands, and grasslands serve as home to thousands of different species of birds, mammals, reptiles, insects, and plants, many of which are now endangered due to habitat loss. These forest ecosystems also provide natural resources like clean water, medicinal plants, and firewood for cooking, resources upon which the local rural and indigenous communities rely for their livelihoods.

Learn more about some of the different types of tropical forest ecosystems where EcoLogic works below:

Montane Forests

Montane forests are found in tropical mountainous regions where rainfall is often heavy. The Central American montane forest region consists of island-like patches of forest in the tops and slopes of the highest mountains in Central America. The climate is more temperate and precipitation is high at these high altitudes, typically with heavy cloud cover. The vegetation in this forest ecosystem features both northern and southern varieties, as well as many endemic species. (Source: https://www.worldwildlife.org/ecoregions/nt0112)

EcoLogic’s project site in Huehuetenango, Guatemala is situated in a Central American montane forest ecosystem. The standing forest in this region is under intense pressure due to cattle ranching, human settlements, and oil-palm plantations, while infrastructure development is only adding to the local strain and natural resource depletion. One of the endangered species at this site is the Guatemalan fir tree (Abies guatemalensis), or Pinabete, an evergreen tree native to Guatemala. Its IUCN Conservation Status is now Endangered due to threats such as land conversion for crops and cattle grazing, timber and fuelwood harvesting, forest fires, and seasonal cutting for Christmas trees.

Cloud Forests

A cloud forest is a type of high montane forest typically occurring at higher altitudes and containing a persistent or seasonal presence of low-level clouds and mist. Mosses, lichens, and epiphytes are some of the plant species typically found in cloud forests. (Source: https://www.britannica.com/science/cloud-forest-ecology). EcoLogic’s project in the Chinantla region is located in the northern part of the state of Oaxaca, Mexico. The forests of the Chinantla include some of the last remaining standing cloud forest in the country and the third-largest rainforest in Mexico, and are part of the Mesoamerican global biodiversity hotspot. In fact, the state of Oaxaca is home to the highest concentration of biodiversity in Mexico. Orchids and Mahogany are two of the vulnerable cloud forest species found at our Oaxaca project site.

Pine-Oak Forests

Central American pine-oak forests, which span across several countries in Central America, feature an array of conifer species. These forests are situated between the broadleaf evergreen cloud forests in higher, wetter elevations, and the lowland tropical wet forests. These forests are also rich in animal life, particularly bird species, though logging poses a serious threat to the habitats of these many species.

EcoLogic works in several sites featuring pine-oak forests. The Communal Forest of Totonicapán, which comprises the largest intact old-growth coniferous forest in Guatemala, is approximately half Central American pine-oak Forest and half Central American montane forest. The Communal Forest, which is surrounded by several urban, suburban, and rural communities, is essentially a biological island surrounded by land that has been converted for subsistence agriculture over the past several decades. The largest remaining stand of the endangered Guatemalan Fir (Abies guatemalensis) is in the Totonicapán forest, where since 2005 Ecologic has collaborated with the 48 Cantons at our Forest of the Water Spirit project site to plant more than 210,000 trees and construct eight tree nurseries where the fir, along with other native trees, are grown for reforestation efforts.

In Honduras, EcoLogic works with the communities in and around Pico Bonito National Park, in the northern part of the country. The area is home to as many as six distinct forest types, including Central American pine-oak forest, and three principal migratory routes used by as many as 225 bird species converge over these forests. Pico Bonito National Park and its surrounding areas provide a unique and critical haven for many threatened species, including jaguars, white-tailed deer, and emerald hummingbirds.

Mangroves

The term mangrove commonly refers to two different things: a tidal swamp ecosystem found in tropical deltas, estuaries, lagoons or islands, and the characteristic tree species populating this ecosystem. Because of their sensitivity to the cold, mangroves are restricted to the tropics and subtropics. They are primarily found in the Indo West Pacific, and the Atlantic East Pacific along coastlines of Central America and Mexico. Mangrove trees have developed unique adaptations to the harsh conditions of coastal environments, notably high amounts of salinity. Mangrove swamps are unique ecological communities that link freshwater and oceanic ecosystems and host a rich diversity of animal species. Mangrove trees play an important role in resilience to climate change by storing carbon in their biomass as they grow -- at rates higher than comparable amounts of rainforest -- thereby decreasing the amount of carbon in the atmosphere. Additionally, by offering an obstacle to wind and waves, mangroves significantly decrease the intensity of increasingly frequent and violent tropical storms and hurricanes while reducing their human and material toll. Their roots also play an important role in trapping sediments and stabilizing shorelines facing increased erosion pressures.

Learn more about mangrove ecosystems on our What is a Mangrove? Page.