Quintana Roo - Motagua




Salvador Contreras Balderas (Universidad Autónoma de Nuevo León), William Bussing (University of Costa Rica, Costa Rica)



Major Habitat Type

Tropical and subtropical coastal rivers

Drainages flowing into

Caribbean Sea

Main rivers to other water bodies

The ecoregion includes mostly small coastal basins with many sinkholes, or cenotes, in Quintana Roo. Larger rivers to the south include the Hondo (border between Quintana Roo and Belize), Belize (Belize), and Polochic and Motagua rivers of Guatemala at the Guatemala-Honduras border. Lago de Izabal is located in Guatemala, and is the largest lake in the ecoregion. It drains into the Gulf of Honduras via Amatique Bay. 



This ecoregion is located along the Caribbean coast of Central America from the Yucatán Peninsula south to the Mutagua River at the Gulf of Honduras. In Mexico it encompasses the southern half of Quintana Roo, the western edge of Campeche, and a small area in eastern Yucatán. It also covers the entire country of Belize, eastern Guatemala, and the western edge of Honduras.


The topography of the ecoregion is primarily flat along the coast and hilly to mountainous in the Sierra Madre. The highest peak in the ecoregion occurs in the Sierra de los Cuchumatanes at elevations that exceed 3200 m. The Maya Mountains are an isolated mountain range located in eastern Belize.

Freshwater habitats

The northern part of the ecoregion is a transition from the cenote-rich area in the northern Yucatán Peninsula to the small surface basins characteristic of southeastern Quintana-Roo. This area contains some springs and Bacalar Lagoon, a large freshwater lagoon where there is a mix of freshwater and marine forms. Belize is also characterized by numerous lagoons, as well as rivers and wetlands.

Terrestrial habitats

The terrestrial habitats in the ecoregion include mangroves along the coast, and Yucatán moist forest, Petén-Veracruz moist forests, and Central American Atlantic moist forests along the coastal plain. Pockets of Belizian pine forests occur in pre-montane areas in Belize. Higher elevations in the ecoregion are dominated by Central American montane forests, Motagua Valley thornscrub, Sierra Madre pine-oak forests, and a small area of Central American dry forests.

Description of endemic fishes

Some of the ecoregion’s endemics include Amphilophus margaritifer, chisel-tooth cichlid (Cichlasoma bocourti), mountain molly (Poecilia teresae), and southern checkmark cichlid (Vieja godmanni). Potamarius izabalensis and Archocentrus spinosissimus are endemic to Lago de Izabal, and Hyphessobrycon milleri and Vieja microphthalma are endemic to the Motagua River basin.

Other noteworthy fishes

The ecoregion’s karst-derived subterranean habitats support a number of unusual species, such as the blind swamp eel (Ophisternon infernale). The freshwater croaker Aplodinotus grunniens (Sciaenidae) reaches its southern limit here. The Yucatan pupfish (Cyprinodon artifrons), ocellated killifish (Floridichthys polyommus), and Yucatan flagfish (Garmanella pulchra) reach their southern limit in Central America in the region.

Ecological phenomena

There has been penetration of tropical fauna toward the impoverished Yucatán ecoregion.

Justification for delineation

Ecoregion delineations were based on qualitative similarity/dissimilarity assessments of major basins, using the standard administrative hydrographical regions of the Mexican federal government. The vast majority of the species/families within this ecoregion are Neotropical. The ecoregion delineation was based on the distributions of the Neotropical species (cichlids mainly).

Level of taxonomic exploration

Excellent within Quintana Roo.


  • Schmitter-Soto, J. J. (2002). "Ichthyogeography of the Peninsula of Yucatán" M. Lozano-Vilano (Ed.) Libro Jubilar en Honor al Dr. Salvador Contreras Balderas. Dir. Gral. De Publicaciones ( pp. 103-116 ) Monterrey, México: Universidad A. de Nuevo León.
  • Gamboa-Pérez, H. and Schmitter-Soto, J. J. (1999). "Distribution of cichlid fishes in the litoral of Lake Bacalar, Yucatán Peninsula" Environm. Biol. Fish. 54 pp. 5-43.
  • Schmitter-Soto, J. J. and Gamboa-Pérez, H. (1996). "Composición y distribución de peces continentales en el sur de Quintana Roo, Península de Yucatán, México" Rev. Biol. Trop. 44 (1) pp. 199-212.
  • FishBase (2001) \Search FishBase\ "<"http://www.fishbase.org/search.cfm ">" (2001)
  • Schmitter-Soto, J. J. (1988). "Catálogo de los peces continentales de Quintana Roo" Chiapas: El Colegio de la Frontera Sur.
  • Wilkens, H. (1973). "Über das phylogenetische Altier Von Hoblentieren. Untersuchungen über die cavernicole Süsswaserfauna Yukatans" Z Zool. Syst. Evolut.-forsch. 11 pp. 49-60.