According to the classification by Dinerstein et al. (1995), the biosphere lies within the Tehuantepec humid forest ecoregion. According to MBR's functional landscape map (CONAP, 2001b), habitats found in the protected area include highland and medium foliage forest, lowland forest and year-round wetlands. The forest of Tikal has been described as "an anthropogenic forest" due to the fact it features a large number of useful tree species such as cedar (Cedrela odorata), mahogany (Swietenia macrophylla), chicle tree (Manilkara achras), allspice (Pimenta dioica) and copal (Protium copal), among others (Balas, 2002). The forest is representative of the eastern section of the Maya Biosphere Reserve.
The Rapid Ecological Evaluation of MBR (APESA, 1993) determined this to be a forest of medium tree diversity, as it is home to approximately 200 species per hectare, although Schulze & Whitacre (1999) calculate that the number is actually higher. The presence of the highlands means that the variety of vegetation in the area is determined by drainage. Like habitats found elsewhere in the Maya Biosphere Reserve, in areas that are only temporarily flooded one can find formations that are characteristic of dry savannah, with spiny, thick bushes.
Highland forest and medium foliage in the highlands
This type of forest grows in the highest parts of the protected area, in the upper highland reaches which cross the area, over an altitude of 300 meters. Due to the fact the soil layers are often shallow and the material is porous, rapid drainage occurs. The canopy opens up at a height of 6-20 meters (CONAP, 2001b). The canopy is thin in some parts, as some trees lose their leaves during the dry season. Existing species include breadnut (Brosimum alicastrum) with guaya (Talisia olivaeformis), malerio (Aspidosperma megalocarpon), pucté (Bucida buceras) and manchiche (Lonchocarpus castilloi), among others (Schulze & Whitacre, 1999).
Highland forest and medium foliage on the plains
This type of forest grows in well-drained soil. It is one of the most common habitats in the area (CONAP, 2001b). The forest canopy can reach a height of 40 meters, although it is highly variable. The highland forest plant life is dominated by ramón (Brosimum alicastrum), some sapotaceous and meliaceous species. In the lower part of the forest one can also find species like allspice (Pimenta dioica).
This type of forest is common in the southwestern and western stretches of the protected area. It grows in areas with shallow, heavy and sticky topsoil that is flooded during the rainy season, but dries and cracks in the dry season. The trees grow in small or medium-sized hollows. During the rainy season, the soil does not properly drain and a sheet of water covers the area.
Variations in the soil drainage can lead to differing water availability and therefore influence the composition of the plant life. In some parts one can find forests with stubby vegetation where dominating species include the logwood (Haematoxylum campechianum), as well as the pucté (Bucida buceras) and the palo gusano (Lonchocarpus guatemalensis). The canopy rarely surpasses 11 meters in height (Lundell 1937). The areas of sunken hollows are covered by marshland. The driest areas are carpeted with xerophtic shrubs, stubby and compact, in characteristic savannah formations, with acacias (Acacia sp.) and thorny plants (Schulze & Whitacre, 1999). Other areas are covered with grasses and palm tree species such as escobo (Chryosophila argentea) and Mexican palmetto (Sabal mexicana).
Researchers working in the Tikal National Park have discovered to date 185 tree species, and there are believed to be more than 200 (Schulze & Whitacre, 1999). The park features the highest density of xate (Chamaedorea sp.) in the entire Maya Biosphere Reserve, with 500 trees per hectare (Balas, 2002, per. com.). Over 352 bird species have been spotted, including 30 birds of prey and 60 migratory species (Balas, 2002). Due to the rarity and number of species of fauna, Tikal is considered an important area in Guatemala (SEGEPLAN/PROSELVA, 2000). Rare species found nesting in Tikal include the orange-breasted falcon (Falco deiroleucus) and the Guiana crested eagle (Morphnus guianensis), which makes Tikal one of the few nesting areas in Central America for this species. Tikal is home to 130 species of herpetofauna, which represents 85% of the 160 known species in the entire Maya jungle (Campbell, 1998). Of these, 105 species are reptiles, 48% of the known species in the country, and 25 are amphibians. The park is believed to be home to 100-105 mammal species (Balas, 2002), of which 60 are bats and five are felines. Some species have modified their habits due to the large numbers of tourists who visit the park. One can easily spot species such as the ocellated turkey (Agriocharis ocellata) and others close-up.
The ocellated turkey (Agriocharis ocellata), a common regional species now under pressure from hunting elsewhere, has practically been tamed in the park, and is commonly spotted. In the photo, one can see wild turkeys do not flee from people.
Reptiles registered to date include the crocodile (Crocodylus moreletii), a common regional species included on the CONAP Red List (2001a). Mammals include the howler monkey (Alouatta pigra), the tapir (Tapirus bairdii), red brocket deer (Mazama americana), jaguar (Panthera onca) and other felines, which are spotted with relative ease in the central section of the park. Panthera onca, A. pigra and M. americana are currently on the IUCN Red List. The Fauna Red List (CONAP, 2001a) includes several felines and other mammals in the area as species on the verge of extinction. The Endangered Flora List by CONAP(2001c) considers that many of the species in the area could become endangered if trade is not strictly regulated, including pita floja (Aechmea magdalenae), which is sporadically but intensely extracted.