PS 56-1 - Biodiversity loss and reforestation in rural Maya Yucatan

Thursday, August 11, 2011
Exhibit Hall 3, Austin Convention Center
Erica Fernandez, Department Urban Studies and Iberian and Latin American Cultures, Stanford University, Stanford, CA

The Yucatan Peninsula has experienced drastic anthropogenic deforestation and biodiversity loss since early colonial times. Deforestation in seasonal dry tropical forests (SDTF) has had direct and indirect repercussions on Maya communities. This project was focused on the condition of biodiversity (measured by the plant resources) as well as the impacts on local community. Direct affects on the physical environment include a dramatic decrease in forested land while indirect affects include changing Maya perception, understanding, and conservation of forest environs. My research was conducted in two locations in the Yucatan Peninsula with dissimilar environmental degradation; the village of Ixil, Yucatan, Mexico and Reserva San Nicolas, a newly established biological preserve located near Cenotillo, Yucatan, an area that for the most part has been conserved with less human impact. I compared the loss of biodiversity from ongoing deforestation as well as the loss of bio- cultural diversity, as traditional farming and forest practice is lost.

Research methods included interviews and surveys of the community, from young adults to elders who have witnessed drastic changes over time in local forest and solares (domestic gardens). In addition I collaborated with community members in the field to asses plant recognition in ten sample transects each 50X2 M, within an area of 0.1ha-1000m^2, which yielded a quantitative analysis of vegetation communities as well as a summary of local plant recognition knowledge. 

Results/Conclusions: Preliminary results appear to indicate that extreme deforestation during the henequen era in and around the village of Ixil drastically reduced overall biodiversity and dramatically changed Maya perceptions of forest and land. While Maya ejidatarios near Reserva San Nicolas retained more robust forest knowledge reflecting their proximity to intact forest.

Key Words: Seasonal dry tropical forests, Yucatan, biodiversity loss, henequen

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