The Cuatro Ciénegas Biosphere Reserve is located in the Cuatrociénegas Valley of Coahuila, Mexico, and includes the Cuatrociénegas Flora and Fauna Protection Area. It is considered the most critical wetland within the Chihuahuan Desert and one of the most important in Mexico.
Cuatro Ciénegas Biosphere Reserve
The Cuatro Ciénegas Biosphere Reserve is in the Cuatrociénegas Valley, located in the central zone of Coahuila, Mexico. It is considered the most critical wetland within the Chihuahuan Desert and one of the most important in Mexico.
The Biosphere Reserve was established in 1994 and occupies an area of 84,347 ha (208,425 acres) at the eastern edge of the Chihuahuan Desert. It was created to protect the unique and diverse ecosystem of the Cuatro Ciénegas Basin, home to many endemic species of flora and fauna.
The Cuatro Ciénegas Biosphere Reserve consists of a small valley locally known as 'Bolson.' It is an arid area with around 500 water bodies (pozas) of varied shapes and shades of blue, surrounded by mountains where unique species of this region have developed.
These wetlands are home to over 800 flora species and about 360 fauna species, some critically vulnerable or endangered. In addition, its gypsum dune sites have one of the highest levels of endemism in the world. Among them, the pozas awe visitors with their beautiful shades of blue.
Water temperatures vary by season and pool. Averages are 20°C (68°F) in Poza Azul (winter) to a balmy 32°C (90°F) in Poza Escobedo (summer). Some pools are transparent, like Yucatecan cenotes. Others are turquoise, aquamarine, cerulean, or teal, depending on sky conditions.
The site also hosts essential resources such as gypsum outcrops, which form the second largest dune field in the Americas and provide habitat for endemic species.
Live stromatolites inhabit the Biosphere Reserve's pools. Stromatolites are colonies of certain types of cyanobacteria, extinct in most of the world, linked to the origin of an oxygen-rich atmosphere over 3 billion years ago.
Stromatolites are organisms that are considered the inventors of photosynthesis. They are formed by bacteria that use water, carbon dioxide and sunlight to create food, expelling oxygen as a by-product. They are the earliest fossil evidence of how life began.
A tiny copepod crustacean, Leptocaris stromatolicolus, is known only from the crevices of these stromatolites and bottom sediments in the saline pools.
Among the many aquatic species in the Biosphere Reserve are three endemic turtles: (Coahuilan box turtle, Cuatro Ciénegas slider and Cuatro Cienegas softshell); eight endemic fish: (Minckley's cichlid, Cuatro Cienegas shiner, Tufa darter, Bolson pupfish, Cuatro Cienegas pupfish, Cuatrociengas gambusia, Cuatrocienegas killifish and northern platyfish); as well as several endemic crustaceans and gastropods, especially hydrobiid freshwater snails.
Cuatrociénegas Flora and Fauna Protection Area
The Cuatrociénegas Flora and Fauna Protection Area (Área de Protección de Flora y Fauna Cuatrociénegas) was created in 2000 as a subset of the larger Cuatro Ciénegas Biosphere Reserve.
It covers an area of approximately 17,400 ha (43,000 acres) and was established to protect species of flora and fauna particularly vulnerable to human activities and habitat loss.