The Central American Montane Forests ecoregion comprises widely scattered small forest patches on the slopes of the highest mountains in Central America, extending from southern Mexico towards the southeast through Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua.
Central American Montane Forests
The Central American Montane Forests ecoregion comprises over 40 relatively small and widely scattered forest patches on the slopes of the highest mountains in Central America, extending from southern Mexico towards the southeast through Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua.
The montane forests ecoregion is surrounded at lower elevations by the Central American pine-oak forests, except for the enclaves in northern Guatemala, northern Honduras, and central Nicaragua, bounded by the Central American Atlantic moist forests.
The montane forests feature a range of vegetation types that vary with altitude. These forests may resemble tropical rainforests at lower elevations, while at higher elevations, the transition to cloud forests is characterized by frequent mist and high humidity. Oak, pine, and other evergreen species are often present.
The defining feature of the Central American Montane Forests is their high elevation. These forests are found at elevations ranging from around 1,000 m (3,280 ft) to over 3,000 m (9,840 ft). As a result, temperatures are cooler compared to lowland areas, and cloud cover is common.
These mountains are essentially the southern limits for the distributions of conifers such as Abies, Juniperus, Cupressus, and Taxus, interspaced with more classical broadleaved evergreen forests dominated by oaks (Quercus). Among the genera of southern tropical habitats are Persia (Lauraceae) and the endemic agave in Guatemala.
Characterized by cooler temperatures and unique plant and animal adaptations, the montane forests are crucial in maintaining regional biodiversity and providing essential ecosystem services.
Rainfall is typically heavy, with 2,000 - 4,000 mm (78 -157 in) falling annually. The vegetation combines northern and southern elements with high endemism, reaching up to 70% on the larger forest islands.
The Central American Montane Forests are known for their high biodiversity, with many species adapted to specific climatic conditions. Unique plant and animal species inhabit these ecosystems, some of which are found nowhere else.
These forests are home to various animal species, including birds, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians. Some species, such as quetzals and tapirs, are iconic and culturally significant.
Both local migrations and inter-continental migrations of birds and butterflies between Central America and North America characterize this ecoregion. More than 20 bird species that breed in North America spend their winters in Central American montane forests habitat. Endemic species include the horned guan and the subspecies of the resplendent quetzal Pharomacrus mocinno mocinno.
The upper reaches of the mountains are typically inhospitable to human activities and are, therefore, still largely intact. However, development pressures are increasing as the primarily indigenous population outgrows its traditional agricultural base.
The lower slopes of this montane ecoregion have already been heavily modified for cash crops such as coffee, ranching for beef, subsistence agriculture—mainly corn and beans—and fuelwood.
Due to their ecological importance and vulnerability, many protected areas and conservation initiatives aim to safeguard the biodiversity and ecosystem services of the Central American Montane Forests. Unfortunately, however, enforcement and infrastructure are missing in many cases.