Magic inspires science: documenting forest pattern change in Mexico’s Sierra de Manantlán Biosphere Reserve and what it means for its biodiversity and its people.
Sierra de Manantlán is a biosphere reserve in the western Mexico within the states of Jalisco and Colima. Established in 1987, the reserve is a complex patchwork of old growth remnants and regenerated forest following extensive logging. The reserve also contains a human population of approximately 30,000 residents that farm within portions of the reserve. Dr. Oscar Cardenas is studying the evolution of forest patterns over the last 25 years using satellite imagery analysis to identify areas of forest regeneration and deforestation. Preliminary results have identified areas in the southern portion of the reserve as the most impacted by adjacent human communities. Dr. Cardenas hopes that future analyses will target management efforts by the reserve’s administration, update use zone designations within the reserve, inform the potential for disease outbreaks and help identify areas important for the dispersal of target species such as the enigmatic Jaguar.
Sierra de Manantlán was dominated by old-growth forest into the 1940s when it attracted the attention of international logging companies. By the middle of the 1980s the area was almost completely cut over, save for the few areas that loggers could not reach due to steep terrain. This created widespread ecological problems as well as social unrest. In 1987, Mexico’s federal government delineated the
It takes a pretty broad perspective to map and monitor change patterns within a reserve that is approximately 140,000 hectares (approximately 346,000 acres). It takes a satellite’s perspective, actually. By using satellite images taken every five years from 1986-2011, Dr. Cardenas can identify the landscape changes that he is most interested in: where forest has recovered during that time and areas where has it been lost. From his initial results, the biggest contributors to deforestation in Manantlán are forest fires, intensive livestock grazing and the spread of industrialized agriculture practices, which require large-scale clearing of wooded areas. These deforestation pressures appear concentrated in the southwestern portion of the reserve, and coincide with the highest human population centers in and around Manantlán’s territory. Dr. Cardenas is excited that with further analyses he can provide a more complete picture about the change patterns within Manantlán’s forests since the reserve’s establishment.
All of these efforts came from a random walk in the misty moonlight on a nameless road in Manantlán’s forests. Over twenty years ago, Oscar Cardenas realized the magic that Manantlán contained and embarked on a journey to better understand it. Through that understanding he hopes to build tools to help protect it and ensure that others can experience it for themselves. Perhaps it is not hard to imagine magic in the tropical forests of Manantlán, where Jaguars roam and cloud forests transition to oak-pine complex. This is the home of Carlos Santana, after all. Perhaps magic is just another part of the landscape.