Central America is a region composed of 7 different countries located to the south of Mexico and north of South America. The area has coastline along the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. Within the region are tall mountains, tropical rainforests, and fertile valleys. Experts have identified Central America as a biodiversity hotspots because within its borders live 7% of the world’s plant and animal life. Higher numbers of species can be found in the southern countries than in the northern countries. This article takes a look at those species and where they inhabit.
Keystone and Endemic Species of Central America
Costa Rica has the highest amount of biodiversity with 13,630 different plant and animal species. Vascular plant species are the biggest contributor to that number; researchers have identified over 12,000 different kinds. This country has the highest percentage of protected land in the world, 25% of its area has been designated as protected parks and reserves. Costa Rica is home to several endemic species such as the Variable Pocket gopher, Mountain Spiny Pocket mouse, Cocos Flycatcher bird, and Cocos Finch bird. Approximately 600 plant species can only be found here as well. Many animals found here are critical to ecosystem health, these include jaguars and American crocodiles.
The second most biodiverse Central American country is Panama which actually has more amphibian, bird, and mammal species than Costa Rica. Some of these include endemic species that only exist in this country. The Panama Slender opossum, Rothschild’s porcupine, Glow-throated hummingbird, Panamanian Coral snake, and Yellow Dyer Rainfrog are all endemic to the area. One of the most important, though not very popular, keystone species in this nation are the more than 15 bat species. These flying mammals play a very important part in the ecosystem by controlling insect populations and sharing a uniquely beneficial relationship with some of the area’s plants.
With a biodiversity total of 9,927, Guatemala is number 3 on the list. This is a mountainous country but also has valleys, rivers, lakes, and coastlines that contribute to its 14 different ecosystems. Approximately 6.7% of its animal species are endemic and 8.1% have a threatened status. Some of these endemic species include: Guatemala Stream frog, Las Palmas Spikethumb frog, Guatemalan Black iguana, Maya mouse, Guatemala Little Brown bat, and 2 species of Jewel Scarab beetles. Sea turtles of the coastline of this country are considered keystone animals due to their role in health marine and coastal habitats.
For a look at other Central American countries and their biodiversity numbers, a list can be found below.
Threats To The Biodiversity Of Central America
One of the biggest threats to biodiversity in these countries is deforestation which clears out key habitats for many plant and animal species. Additionally, deforestation fragments the existing forest habitats making it difficult for larger species to hunt over large territories. This can result in the predator species over-hunting the smaller, plant-eating species which, in turn, leads to overgrowth of plant species. An estimated 80% of all vegetation in Central America is considered agriculture. Illegal hunting and trading are also threats to the flora and fauna of this region. The approaches taken by humans are unsustainable and do not allow for regrowth or repopulation of their targeted plants and animals. Many wild species such as parrots and monkeys are captured and traded to be sold as pets. Crocodiles and snakes are captured and killed for their skins. Many other plants and animals are used in traditional medicine.
Governments and nonprofits need to work together to avoid the loss of biodiversity. These efforts should involve protecting larger land areas, protecting more species, and educating the public about the importance of biodiversity and keystone species. Policies are needed that crack down on illegal sell and trade as well as focus on rebreeding programs to increase the numbers of threatened species. If something isn’t done soon, Central America risks losing much of its biodiversity.