JAGUAR | ©Chloe and Trevor Van Loon. iNaturalist


The Yucatan Peninsula, with over 14 million hectares, is home to the Maya tropical forest, and its extraordinary biological richness. There area around 3,000 plant species, over 640 fungi species and 6,800 animal species. In spite of the great disturbances on the ecosystems, this tropical forest has healthy top predator populations and their prey, such as jaguar, cougar, tapir, monkeys, peccaries and deer, 132 mammal species , 110 reptile species and over 545 bird species.

Local ecosystems include tall, medium and low tropical forests, flooded forest, sabanas, wetlands, cenotes, a few inland lagoons (Yalahau, Chichankanab), coastal lagunes, stuaries, petenes, mangroves, coastal dune vegetation, sea grasses and coral reefs.

These tropical forests and coastal mangroves are efficient carbon sinks, much needed in the global efforts to stabilize the Earth´s climate.

The most abundant Jaguar populations of Mexico live in the Yucatan Peninsula

Pantera Onca

JAGUAR | ©Carlos Luna


SNOWY EGRET | ©Iván Montes de Oca Cacheux

Mono araña
SPIDER MONKEY | © Martin Broen

BROCKET DEER | © Leonor Vázquez

The distribution of some charismatic species coincides with the Yucatan Peninsula Biotic Province which includes part of Guatemala and Belice: the Yucatan brown brocket, the Ocellated turkey, the Caribbean dove, the Yucatan mud turtle and the Black howler monkey. There are around 200 endemic plant species like Mexican ponytail, Kanzacam organ, saktoy, Pot tsakam, Machiche, Chimay, piñón, Black catzin, Mountain xuul (Pérez-Sarabia et al. 2017).

Endemism in cenotes is outstanding with several species of shrimps and crabs(Cenote crab, Cenote chacal crab, Yucatan coral shrimp, cochinilla yucateca), and fishes (Blind white dame, Yucatan blind anguila, Yucatan tetra); and in Cozumel Island (Cozumel racoon, Cozumel island , Cozumel scorpion).


For millennia the Peninsula´s tropical forests have been subject to natural disturbances such as hurricanes, fires and flooding and also to human disturbances. Large settlement development of the Maya culture during the IV to IX centuries, the peak of lignum vitae and Blackwood exploitation during the XIX century and before (Villegas 2014), and the exploitation of henequén, Mahogany and Spanish cedar, at the end of XIX century and beginning of XX century, had a great impact on forest transformation.

In 1988, National Geographic magazine published a stunning satellite image showing the drastic contrast in forest loss in the Mexican (Tabasco) and Guatemalan border. The total forest transformation of this region was caused by a government initiative to promote colonization and cattle pastures. This image became an urgent call for the conservation of the region.

Frontera México-Guatemala
© NASA Image1984

Selva Maya
© Antonio de Jesús García Bernal - CONABIO Image Bank

© Carlos Z. Santillan Garcia - CONABIO´s Image Bank

As a consequence, at the end of the 80s and beginning of the 90s, several Biosphere Reserves were created: Sian Ka´an (Quintana Roo), Calakmul (Campeche) and Selva Maya and Laguna del Tigre (in Guatemala). At the end of the 90s and beginning of 2000, Los Petenes, Ría Lagartos, Ría Celestún Reserves, were created in the coasts of Campeche and Yucatán.

During the last 35 years, the States with the highest forest ecosystem loss were Campeche, Yucatán and Quintana Roo (CONABIO 2023). Recently, the Maya Train circuit is bringing more fragmentation to the Peninsula´s tropical forests.

Forest loss in Campeche, Quintana Roo and Yucatan (2002-2022)


In spite of the large federal protected area creation initiative, Peninsula´s tropical forest continue with a fast trend of transformation and deterioration. Maintenance of healthy populations of many species requires connectivity conservation and restoration.

Red de Reservas


To promote voluntary conservation, the Yucatan Peninsula´s Private and Social Reserve Network was created in 2014. At present five reserves participate in the network: two reserves in Quintana Roo: Pez Maya (Amigos de Sian Ka´an) and the Reserva Ecológica El Edén and three in Yucatan: Reserva Biocultural Kaxil Kiuic, ADVC El Zapotal (Pronatura Península de Yucatán A.C.) and Reserva Chichí de los Lagos (Fundación Claudia y Roberto Hernández).

The objective of this initiative is to promote the establishment and sustainable management of social and private reserves in strategic zones to allow biodiversity conservation and maintenance of ecological processes, as well as sustainable management by the owners.

The reserve network has developed the platform El Faro, to provide support to owners and communities in protected area management.

Boletín Red de Reservas

To promote this initiative, the network is publishing a threemonthly digital newsletter. The first issue includes descriptions of the reserves that integrate the network today and some of their projects. If you are interested in being part of the network, please contact us.



  • Schmitter-Soto, J.J., , F.A. Comín, E. Escobar Briones, J. Herrera-Silveira, J. Alcocer, E. Suarez-Morales, M. Elías-Gutierrez, V. Díaz-Arce, L.E. Marín & B. Steinich. 2002. Hydrogeochemical and biological characteristics of cenotes in the YucatanPeninsula (SE Mexico). Hydrobiologia 467: 215–228.
  • Perez-Sarabia, J.E., y R. Duno de Stefano, R. 2015. Patrones de distribución de la flora endémica de la Península de Yucatán. Desde El Herbario CICY, 7, 76–80.
  • Perez-Sarabia, J.E., R. Duno de Stefano, G. Fernández-Concha, I. Ramírez, N. Méndez-Jiménez, P. Zamora-Crescencio, C. Gutiérrez-Báez y W. Cetzal-Ix. 2017. El conocimiento florístico de la Península de Yucatán. Polibotánica 44
  • Villegas y Rosa Torras, P.. 2014. La extracción y exportación del palo de tinte a mano de los colonos extranjeros. El caso de la B. Anizan y Cía. Secuencia. N. 90.