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Status and Trends of Biodiversity


Given its situation in the zone of confluence of the Nearctic and Neotropical biogeographic regions, its very varied topography and climate, its long history of in situ evolution and the manipulation and domestication of plant populations and species by indigenous people, Mexico is one of the five foremost biologically “megadiverse” countries in the world: It has five of the eight principal terrestrial biomes, and has one of the greatest assemblages of ecosystem diversity anywhere on the planet – a facet of biodiversity shared only with China, India, Peru and Colombia. Mexico’s share of global biodiversity is estimated at between 10 to 12% of all species, on a land area representing only 1.5% that of the Earth’s total. Mexico is ranked 2nd in the world for the diversity of its reptiles (804 species – behind Australia, with 880), 3rd for its mammals (530 species, behind Indonesia and Brazil with 667 and 578 species respectively), and 4th for its amphibians (361 species). In all, Mexico’s terrestrial vertebrate fauna (i.e., not including fish) numbers over 2,800 species, of which 974 – almost one third – are endemic to the country (including 65% of amphibians and 57% of reptiles). Its known vascular flora numbers 23,522 species, although estimates put the total at closer to 31,000, of which between 50 to 60% (around 15,000) are endemic, although levels of endemicity are even higher for certain plant families (83% of species of Cactaceae, 66% of Asteraceae, 63% of Orquidaceae and 58% of Fabaceae, for example). The aquatic and marine environments are no less diverse, with an estimated 3,500 species of marine fish – a diversity surpassed only by the Asia-Pacific region, which is 20 times larger–, while the world’s second largest coral Barrier Reef is shared by the Caribbean coasts of Mexico and Belize. Over 2,200 species of freshwater fish are documented from Mexico, of which 32% are endemic. Mexico’s great cultural diversity, with at least 60 surviving indigenous languages, has always been closely associated with its environmental diversity, and the origin of agriculture in Mesoamerica and the domestication of at least 118 economically important plant species in Mexico are only two facets of the human contribution to the country’s biodiversity: Maize, beans, squash, cacao, tomatoes and the avocado were all domesticated here. Among current threats to Mexico’s biodiversity are deforestation for land use change (principally for agriculture, but urban, industrial and infrastructural development also contribute), forest fires, illegal logging and species over exploitation (including fisheries), with invasive species, climate change and other factors currently of lesser importance, but with potential for greater impact.

Number and Extent of Protected Areas

Mexico has 159 federal reserves, covering a total of 22,275,672 hectares, with Biosphere Reserves comprising around 50% of the total area. 77% of this total comprises terrestrial ecosystems, while the remaining 23% protects marine environments, including coral reefs and coastal habitats. Mexico also has 67 Ramsar sites for wetland protection, with a surface of more than 5 million hectares – the second country with highest number of wetlands of international importance in the world.

Percentage of Forest Cover

73% of Mexico’s total land surface, that is over 140 million of a total of 194.3 million hectares, is covered by natural vegetation. Of this, a little over 71 million hectares (36.5% of Mexico’s territory) is forested (ecosystems in which trees predominate), while the remainder is mostly desert scrub and natural grasslands. Of the forested area, over 33 million hectares comprises secondary forest, while over 37 million hectares is considered primary forest (equivalent to 19% of the total land surface of Mexico).

National Biodiversity Strategy Action Plan

Major features of National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan

Mexico’s NBSAP (2000) has established four strategic lines that will help to accomplish CBD objectives: 1) conserve and protect the biodiversity components 2) value the different components of biodiversity; 3) promote knowledge on biodiversity and 4) encourage sustainable and diversified use of biodiversity components.

At a local level, the National Commission of the Knowledge and Use of Biodiversity has implemented the NBSAP taking into account the natural, social and cultural diversity of the country. In 2002, this Commission started to develop State-Level Biodiversity Strategies (SBS) in conjunction with state governments and representatives from different social sectors. CONABIO’s main task is to facilitate and give advice throughout these multi-sector and multi-stakeholder processes that will allow each of the 32 state entities to have their own State Biodiversity Study and Strategy. The importance of this approach is that it takes into account the great cultural, geographical, social and biological diversity of Mexico. The main goal is that the SBS is to provide key planning instruments to local governments and decision-makers with a comprehensive framework to conserve and sustainably use biological diversity, according to specific contexts and characteristics.

The SBS process includes the elaboration of two key documents: the State Biodiversity Study and the actual State Biodiversity Strategy. The first aims to assess the current status of biodiversity within each state, at all levels, following on the same rationale and structure of the Biodiversity Country Study. The main goal is that the SBS becomes the key planning instrument to define the actions and resources that each State will allocate in order to implement CBD at this level, and to conserve and use its biological diversity in a sustainable manner.

In the long run, the implementation of the SBS aims to establish basic principles for the conservation and sustainable use, and thematic and spatial priorities for action according to the particular conditions and priorities of every State. A second objective of the SBS process is to identify synergies between the local processes and the National Biodiversity Strategy’s priorities and actions.

Implementation of the Convention

Measures Taken to Achieve the 2010 Target

Mexico has added more than 5 million 263 thousand hectares to the list of wetlands of international importance, including ecosystems such as mangroves and coral reefs. Attention is being paid to the conservation of ecosystems with a high degree of biodiversity, for example, the Biosphere Reserve of Calakmul which has been incorporated into a strict conservation regime through the expropriation of 150,710 hectares designated as core zones. In 2005, the Islands and Protected Areas of the Gulf of California were designated as a World Heritage Site for their outstanding universal natural value. An inter-institutional working group, in which NGOs and experts are participating, has been established to undertake a marine and terrestrial gap analysis, to be completed by 2007, for the development of a representative system of protected areas.

Mexico has implemented a programme of work to conserve certain species at risk, such as the jaguar and marine turtles, considered emblems for the conservation of protected areas. Through CONAFOR (Comisión Nacional Forestal), Mexico works on the sustainable use of forests and aims to increase its forest surface by one million hectares. CONAFOR participates in a project funded by the GEF with the participation of indigenous communities. Mexico has also established a programme for the sustainable use of mountains which considers 60 of the most important mountains in the country. Although there are no specific targets to control threats from invasive alien species, a working group has recently been assembled to deal with this issue. Some concrete actions have been taken, such as the development of monitoring systems, risk analysis assessment protocols, workshops, preliminary lists of invasive species, etc. The Instituto Nacional de Ecología (National Ecology Institute), together with non-governmental organizations, is taking important actions towards the eradication of invasive alien species in the islands. With the successful creation of some programmes of “payment for environmental services” in protected areas, Mexico is regarded as a country that recognizes the value of environmental services rendered by its natural resources. In terms of benefit-sharing, the amendments made to the Mexican Constitution in 2001 recognize the rights of the indigenous peoples and communities in various areas. Additionally, Mexico has passed a law on industrial property and another on access to genetic resources.

Initiatives in Protected Areas

During the past government administration (2000-2006), the surface of protected areas was increased from 17 million hectares to 22 million hectares (through which 10% of the national territory is protected). The Programme of Work on Natural Protected Areas also aimed to identify targets and indicators to obtain information on the effectiveness of the management of protected areas, strengthen institutional infrastructure, increase budget and training. Through this programme, new projects aiming to increase the area of natural protected areas in coastal, marine and island ecosystems by a total 871,636 hectares have been approved. One of the prioritized regions in Mexico’s Programme of Work on Natural Protected Areas is the desert of Chihuahua. Mexico’s legal instrument to enforce the conservation of biodiversity is the Declaration of Natural Protected Areas.

Initiatives for Article 8(j)

Mexico is a country with extreme biological and cultural diversity. A large part of Mexico’s rural population lives from small-scale traditional agricultural practices. In 2004, during the COP-MOP-2 in Malaysia, Mexico made a declaration against modifications to maize, which may limit its use for human consumption. Established in 2003, the programme of collective biological resources has among its objectives the promotion of the collective ownership of innovative traditional knowledge and practices for the in situ conservation of biodiversity. A study on public environmental policies, biodiversity and indigenous peoples carried out in 2003, has been a valuable tool for the analysis of the context in which the indigenous peoples of Mexico live, and has helped the decision-making process. Mexico has financed 35 projects related to the role of indigenous communities in the conservation of biodiversity, in which women are considered to be of utmost importance. In 2004, Mexico organized 30 workshops and four regional events related to the role of traditional knowledge in the conservation of biodiversity, with the participation of 600 indigenous representatives and 139 traditional medicinal doctors. In 1990, Mexico signed the ILO Convention concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries. Starting in 2001, various modifications have been made to the legislation aimed at recognizing the rights of the indigenous communities.

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  • United Nations
  • United Nations Environment Programme