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Introduction 1The value of the tropical rainforest

Identifying areas for ecotourism and conservation of threatened species: the model of black howler monkey in playas de Catazajá, Mexico



J.C. Serio-Silva1, Y.M. Bonilla-Sánchez1, G. Pozo-Montuy1, R. Reyna-Hurtado2, 3 & C.A. Chapman2

1Red de Biología y Conservación de Vertebrados, Instituto de Ecología AC, México.

2McGill University, Canada and Wildlife Conservation Society, USA.

3El Colegio de la Frontera Sur, México.

Abstract



Under conditions of deforestation, many plants and animals, including the black howler monkey (Alouatta pigra) of the region, face an imminent risk of local extinction. Recently, projects have been initiated that have potential for promoting sustainable rural development and conservation; in Northeastern Chiapas ecotourism is the most promising. The goal of our study was to determine the distribution and abundance of howler monkeys in Playas de Catazajá municipality, in the Mexican state of Chiapas to identify potential areas for ecotourism. We evaluated habitat quality and howlers population structure, in 70 fragments in 39 localities. The age/sex ratio of howler monkeys in each fragment was used to as an index of population health and used to calculate an Ecotourism-Population Potentiality Index (EpPI). At the same time, we applied Ecotourism-Habitat Potential Index (EhPI) considering vegetation type, fragment size, distance to the nearest fragment, accessibility, distances to the access way, and accessibility easiness to howler habitat. Our data indicate that there are few fragments adequate to sustain howler’s monkey troops and that they are threatened in the area. We suggest that these sites can be protected through activities that reduce the human pressure and the deforestation rate.

Keywords: MACROBUTTON MACROBUTTON Deforestation rates, tropical forest, Alowatta pigra, rural develop-ment, ecotourism potential index.
  1. Introduction

1.1The value of the tropical rainforest


Tropical rainforests may be the most diverse ecosystems in the world Bierregaad et al. [1] and they contain an enormous amount of information and genetic variation Estrada and Coates-Estrada [2] Until now it has been impossible to economically quantify many of their benefits and the ecological services they provide. Vital services include oxygen production, retention and storage of water, soil production, carbon storage, contributions to climatic stability at local, regional, and global scales, nutrients recycling, and the maintenance of biodiversity SEMARNAT [3]. They are also an important source of foods, medicines, wild game, and timber Myers [4]. Finally, it is also essential to consider their cultural and esthetic value.

Mexico, the country of this studies focus, is particular important as it is recognized as a threatened biodiversity hotspot Mittermeier et al. [5]. In the tropical areas of Mexico there are tall and medium evergreen forest and tall and medium sub-perennial forests. Both forest types extend from the Gulf of Mexico (including the Yucatan Peninsula and the Isthmus of Tehuantepec) to Guatemala Estrada and Coates-Estrada [2]. In addition, the Lacandona Forest located in Chiapas and the forest from the Southern Campeche and Quintana Roo states are continuous with forests in Guatemala and Belize and constitute a single forest named the Maya or Great Peten Forest SEMARNAT [3].

1.2Historical use of Mexico’s tropical forests


Globally the net loss of forest area between 2000 –2005 was approximately ~200 km2 per day, but deforestation rates varied dramatically between regions. Humans are transforming the tropical forests in Southern Mexico at alarming rates. For example, in Northeast of Chiapas, tropical forest was lost at a rate of approximately 12.4% annually; in Los Tuxtlas, Veracruz, the annual conversion rate of tropical forest to grasslands is of 4.3 %, in the area around Palenque in Chiapas this rate is 12.4 %, in the central area of Chiapas near the border with Guatemala it is 4.5 %, and in the Southern Yucatan Peninsula it is 7.7 %. Deforestation rates vary because of accessibility and simply as a result of how much forest is left to be transformed (e.g., most of the Los Tuxtlas forests are already converted to agriculture). Transformation of forests at such rates, have likely resulted in the extinction of hundreds of species, [6, 7, 8, 9], before they could be identified and evaluated for human use Estrada and Coates-Estrada [2]. In total, more than the 24 % of Mexico has been transformed for agriculture and cattle ranching. Thus, there is an urgent need to strictly protect some areas and to diversify the uses of other areas to provide economic resources, while conserving biodiversity. To achieve this it is valuable to assign economic values to these systems and the species they support.
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