Natural History of Tierra Alta

img_feat_05The Tropical Dry Forest (also known as Tropical Deciduous Forest)

Tierra Alta lies within a zone which once covered nearly the entire Pacific Coast of Mexico. This Tropical Dry Forest is still known for its great diversity of plant and animal species, although there is an urgent need for conversation practices that will protect the ecology of these unique coastal zones.

The most important single step is to prevent further deforestation. Reforestation of native plants and trees is an important part of any ecologically healthy approach to land management. At La Tierra, no trees can be cut unless building or road sites require the tree’s removal. But in every case, more new trees will be planted in reforestation areas than will be removed.

Seasonality

People from the US and Canada often come to this area expecting a changeless pattern of green. But as any native can tell you, there is a dramatic winter-summer change in the appearance of the mountains that follow the coastal area. Most of the trees shed their leaves during the winter months. Many tree species produce flowers during the early spring months before the rains come in full force during July. These flowering trees (Primavera being an example) then produce leaves during the rainy season but only after the flowers have fallen.
The rainy season (June-October) is accompanied by the fresh leaf growth that turns the mountainsides to a beautiful, deep green that lasts until the late fall when the deciduous cycle and dry season begin again in November.
The different oak species at Tierra Alta produce a variety of acorns in the early spring and tend to hold their leaves through the winter months until the rain begins again in June-July.

Plant and animal diversity

Tierra Alta is an oak forest with an occasional pine tree. However, there is unusual biodiversity in both the plants and animals of this region – Mexico has more than 100 species of oak and 39 different pines. At Tierra Alta, a variety of wild orchids bloom in the spring, as do bromeliads and other epiphytes. There are many plant species endemic to the area.

This because the Sierra Madre Occidental mountains that begin in southern Arizona reach their end point very near Puerto Vallarta, leaving large gaps in mountain elevations before resuming their march to the south as the Sierra Madre del Sur range, well to the south of El Tuito, ultimately reaching the southern Mexican states of Guerrero and Oaxaca .

The unusual number of endemic species in this area is the result of isolation caused by the almost complete separation of the western Sierra Madre range from the Sierra Madre del Sur to the south. This gap has caused uniquely favorable ecological conditions for endemic species. Within the Jalisco coastal area alone, there are 18 mammal species endemic to Mexico, meaning they occur in no other country.

Birds

The birds are the most easily seen. Some familiar – the beautiful gray hawk is a regular inhabitant of Tierra Alta, its mournful whistle a common sound on hikes. The spectacular hues of the military macaws or guacamayas are also familiar, as are a number of other parrot species whose raucous cries and brilliant green colors are commonly sighted.

Animals

They are there, whether you see them or not.

There are many animal species only very rarely seen such as the four or five members of the cat family, all mainly nocturnal, whose range includes the mountains near El Tuito. There is a persistent, romantic belief that jaguars still inhabit the area and that is confirmed at least in one case by a government sponsored project aimed at breeding and releasing jaguars.That program is based at a deliberately obscure location a half hour into the mountains from El Tuito.

Jaguars, by the way, do not have a taste for humans. Tejones or coatimundi are common raccoon-like creatures with long noses. They can be highly intelligent intruders if tempted with food left within easy reach.

Armadillos are another nocturnal resident though not bright enough to cause many problems.

The collared peccary is a familiar sight, often moving in small family groups, enjoying the acorns in the oak forests.

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