Why Is Biodiversity Important in Central America?

Biodiversity refers to the variety of life that may be found in a given place. It includes animals, plants, fungi, and even microbes such as bacteria.

Read more: What Is Biodiversity?

Central America has a very rich biodiversity, particularly considering the area’s fairly small land coverage. Covering only less than 1% of the Earth’s surface, Central America is home to around 8% of the world’s plants and animal species. 

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Biomes in Central America

Biomes are large geographical areas distinguished by their vegetation, soil, climate, and wildlife. Biodiversity exists in all types of biomes, though some biomes are more biodiverse than others.

Read more: Biomes and Biodiversity

Central America serves as a land bridge between the continents of North and South America. Central America consists of seven countries, including Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama, each of which has different kinds of biomes. The image below shows the countries in the Central American region. 

map - why is biodiversity important in central america
Source: World Atlas

The biomes in Central America are very important for the survival of the rich biodiversity in the region. The natural habitats of Central America consist of several biomes, including:

  • Tropical Rainforests
  • Dry Forests
  • Coniferous Forests
  • Grasslands
  • Deserts
  • Coastal Seas
  • Rivers

The image below shows the different terrestrial ecoregions in Central America.

biomes in central america - biodiversity
Source: Blanca Estela Rios

Biodiversity of Wildlife in Central America

Central America has one of the greatest concentrations of wildlife species diversity on the planet. The Mesoamerica biodiversity hotspot, an area that has great biodiversity but is also threatened by human action, spans most of the Central American region.


Around 692 reptile species are found in Central America, including some endemic species, such as Central American Whiptail, Motagua Spiny-tailed iguanas, and Abronia lizards. 


The Central American region is home to approximately 440 mammal species. Some of them are considered endemic, such as Jaguarundi, Variable Pocket Gopher, and Panama Slender Opossum


Central America is also home to 1,113 different bird species, many of which are endemic to the region, including Cocos Flycatcher birds, Volcanic Hummingbirds, and Fulvous Owls.

The image below shows three endemic wildlife species in Central America: Volcanic Hummingbird, Jaguarundi, and Abronia lizard.

wildlife - why is biodiversity important central america
Sources: (Brian Sullivan, Vassil, Joan Nice)

Biodiversity of Flora in Central America

Central America is a biodiversity corridor, which means it is a rich flora ecosystem that allows animals to move from north to south American ecosystems while giving them food and refuge. The flora biodiversity in Central America is very rich, and consists of approximately 17,000 vascular plant species. Around 2900 of them are considered endemic to the region, including Kapok trees, Sapodilla trees, and different types of orchids. 

The images below show some of the endemic flora species in Central America that are specified above.

flora - why is biodiversity important central america
Sources: (David J. Stang, Klaus Schönitzer, Sow Exotic)

Why Is Biodiversity Important in Central America?

Central America holds 8% of the world’s biodiversity, making it critical to the global economy and ecosystem. As to why is biodiversity important in Central America, here are some examples of ecosystem services that rely on biodiversity.

A large number of medicinal plants in Central America are used to treat diabetes and its related conditions. Other medicinal plants from the region, such as Arnica, Matarique, and Guayacan, are used as immuno-stimulants for the treatment of diarrhea, cough, and inflammation. 

Costa Rica is the most biodiverse country in Central America, and its nature-based tourism concept has established itself as one of the world’s most important ecotourism destinations, accounting for 8.2% of GDP in 2016.

Threats to Biodiversity in Central America

As one of the most biodiverse regions in the world, Central America’s biodiversity is threatened by multiple man-made factors, such as:

  • Deforestation 
  • Habitat loss due to agricultural expansion 
  • Pollution 
  • Climate change

For example, deforestation in Central America is commonly caused by man-made factors. One of the biggest causes of deforestation is large-scale illegal cattle ranching, which is responsible for about 90% of deforestation in the remaining indigenous territories and protected areas in Central America. Deforestation reduces biodiversity as it not only destroys diverse ecosystems and trees, but it reduces livable habitats for threatened species.

cattle ranching - why is biodiversity important central america
Illegal cattle ranching in Central America causes deforestation, which reduces biodiversity in the region.
Source: Wildlife Conservation Society

Biodiversity Conservation in Central America

Government-led conservation efforts are being conducted throughout the region.  However, government initiatives alone cannot preserve the biodiversity of Central America. Different community awareness programs can provide an additional help to conservation efforts. 

In 2017, the Wildlife Conservation Society conducted a study on drivers of deforestation in Latin America, called the “Human Footprint and Cow Hoofprint Analysis.” The study resulted in the development of “The Petén Declaration”, which was signed by 25 attending organizations including indigenous groups, protected area agencies, and civil society organizations from nine countries

The declaration commits to five different concrete actions to save Mesoamerican forests: 

  1. “Support indigenous governments and community forest organization”
  2. “Strengthen conservation of protected areas”
  3. “Support the prosecution of environmental crimes”
  4. “Prioritize actions to reduce illegal cattle ranching, which is the main cause of deforestation”
  5. Protect all environmental leaders who risk their lives for the protection of Mesoamerican forests and protected areas.”

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