Location and General Description
The Northern Honduras ecoregion runs along the Caribbean coastline from east to west. One end is just east of the Bahía de Amatique in the Gulf of Honduras in Guatemala, then crosses the border into Honduras ending near the delta of the Patuca River. In the eastern part, toward the Honduran border, mangroves are found on a flat coastal plain containing several lagoons and periodically flooded grasslands as well as lowland pine savannas associated with the adjacent Miskitia pine forest ecoregion. In the western part, toward and just into Honduras, mangroves are part of an assemblage of diverse habitats that include remnants of original and unaltered humid tropical forest. Habitat types found here include various types of coastal wetlands that include flooded savannas, marshes, lakes, mangroves, rocky beaches, coral reefs, and mangrove lined lagoons linked by rivers and channels.
Poorly drained silt and clay soils at the mouths of rivers promote the formation of channels whose depths may increase 2-6 m in the summer when the river mouths close up.
The coastal climate is tropical. Annual precipitation ranges between approximately 3000 mm in the east and 2000 mm in the western areas, most of which is received during the rainy season from June to December. The dry season is from January to May. The ecoregion averages about four intense tropical storms and two hurricanes per decade.
Mangrove vegetation found in this ecoregion include species such as red mangrove (Rhizopora mangle), black mangrove (Avicennia germinans), white mangrove (Laguncularia racemosa), buttonwood (Conocarpus erectus)and another species of red mangrove (R. harrisonii). Other plant species associated with mangroves include the leather fern (Acrostichum sp). While mangroves found on the fringe of coastal lagoons, are mainly dominated by Rhizopora mangle and Laguncularia racemosa. Other plant species associated with mangroves are Coccolaba uvifera and Cocos nucifera. Inland from the coast savanna areas are dominated by a Honduran variety of Caribbean pine (Pinus caribaea hondurensis) in the drier areas. Moister area vegetation consists of sedge prairie, which includes palm thickets of Acoelorraphe wrightii. Other habitats found in different parts of the lowland areas are humid tropical broadleaf gallery forests and swamp forests. Among the tree species found in the flooded forest are Pachira aquatica, Calophyllum brasiliense, Virola Koschyi and Roystonea dunlapiana.
Birds more specific to mangrove communities include black-bellied whistling duck (Dendrocygna autumnalis), mangrove warbler (Dendroica petechia), great egret (Egretta albus), snowy egret (Egretta thula), jabiru (Jabiru mycteria), wood stork (Mycteria americana), yellow-crowned night heron (Nycticorax violaceus), and Neotropic cormorant (Phalacrorax olivaceus) just to name a few. Birds that may visit mangrove communities include scarlet macaw (Ara macao), green macaw (Ara ambigua), military macaw (A. militaris), great blue heron (Ardea herodias), snowy cotinga (Carpodectes nitidus), harpy eagle (Harpia harpyia), osprey (Pandion Halieatus), and a variety of plovers and sandpipers (Charadriidae and Scolopacidae) and several parrots, parakeets, and hummingbirds.
Mammals found in this ecoregion either as visitors or residents include species such as paca (Agouti paca), black mantled howler monkey (Alouatta palliata), Geoffrey's spider monkey (Ateles geoffroyi), white-faced capuchin (Cebus capucinus), ocelot (Leopardus pardalis), Central American otter (Lutra longicaudis), giant anteater (Myrmecophaga tridactyla), jaguar (Panthera onca), Baird's tapir (Tapirus bairdii), collared peccaries (Tayassu tajacu), and Caribbean manatee (Trichecus manatus). Fauna also within this ecoregion are reptiles including snakes (Boa constrictor), American crocodile (Crocodylus acutus), brown caiman (Caiman crocodilus), loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta), green turtle (Chelonia mydas), leatherback turtle (Dermochelys coriacea), ctenosaur (Ctenosaura similis), hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata), iguana (Iguana iguana), and Mexican python (Loxocemus bicolor).
Farmers have settled much of the coastal areas within this ecoregion, clearing land as they go. The clearing of land has lead to a continual degradation of mangrove habitat and surrounding habitat due to erosion of soils and the sedimentation that follows.
Four protected areas fall with in this ecoregion's boundaries so they contain mangrove habitat and are recognized as having international importance. These include the Rio Platano Biosphere Reserve, the Jeannette Kawas National Park, Barras de Cuero y Salado and Punta Izopo. The last three of these are considered wetlands of international importance under the RAMSAR convention.
Types and Severity of Threats
Threats to this ecoregion include agricultural expansion, burning of forests to increase pasture area, other large scale clearing of vegetation, drainage of coastal wetlands, sedimentation as a result of upstream farming on steep slopes, runoff of agrochemicals, discharge of industrial waste, water diversion and flooding associated with the building of dykes and canals. Sedimentation at levels that exceed the capacity, at which mangroves are able to capture and stabilize them, or loss of mangroves that would otherwise do this, then leads to damages to coral reefs. Other kinds of threats are from over fishing, poaching, commercial hunting – the latter two have led to the local extinction of some mammal species.
Figures were not available regarding increased incidences of tropical storms and hurricanes in Honduras but this is a general concern throughout the Caribbean region. As mentioned above, the region averages four intense tropical storms and two hurricanes per decade. According to data provided by a Caribbean research station, in the neighboring Miskitia ecoregion, tropical storms are expected to occur on an average of once a year but in 1996, three tropical storms and one hurricane occurred. Hurricanes are expected once every fifty years but three struck the Corn Islands, in Nicaragua of the neighboring Mosquitia ecoregion, in the past 8 years (Ryan et al. 1998). Although it is not possible to unequivocally link these particular extreme events with climate change, an increase in their frequency is consistent with the predicted effects of climate change, in that they have a tendency to occur in warmer waters (Kjerfve and Macintosh 1997).
Justification of Ecoregion Delineation
Classification and linework for all mangrove ecoregions in Latin America and the Caribbean follow the results of a mangrove ecoregion workshop (1994) and subsequent report (Olson et al. 1996).
Ecoregional Workshop: A Conservation Assessment of Mangrove Ecoregions of Latin America and the Caribbean. 1994. Washington D.C., World Wildlife Fund.
Kjerfve, B., Macintosh D.J. 1997. The impact of climatic change on mangrove ecosystems. In Kjerfve, B., Lacerda L.D., and Diop E.H.S. eds. Mangrove ecosystem studies in Latin America and Africa. UNESCO, Paris, France.
Olson, D.M., E. Dinerstein, G. Cintrón, and P. Iolster. 1996. A conservation assessment of mangrove ecosystems of Latin America and the Caribbean. Final report for The Ford Foundation. World Wildlife Fund, Washington, D.C.
Roth, L.C. 1997. Implications of periodic hurricane disturbance for the sustainable management of Caribbean mangroves. In: Kjerfve, B., Lacerda L.D., and Diop E.H.S. eds. Mangrove ecosystem studies in Latin America and Africa. UNESCO, Paris France.
Ryan, J.D., Miller L.J., Zapata Y., Downs O., Chan R. 1998. Great Corn Island, Nicaragua. In: Kjerfve B. ed. Caribbean coral reef, seagrass and mangrove sites. UNESCO, Paris France.
Prepared by: Sylvia Tognetti
Reviewed by: In process