Mangroves of Rio San Pedro, amusing cases of ecology and evolutionary history

Mangroves of Rio San Pedro, amusing cases of ecology and evolutionary history

In March of 2023 our expedition team found and documented mangrove trees along Rio San Pedro. Since then, we have learned a lot about these remarkable trees.

Mangroves have bright green leaves. Photo by: David Arrivillaga. Rio San Pedro, March, 2023.

Our team first learned about these mangrove remnants primarily through a research publication by Octavio Aburto and a group of researchers (Aburto-Oropeza et al., 2021). In that sense, one highlight of this study is the documentation of a mangrove forest that is located 170 km inland from the Atlantic ocean. That information turned out to be vital for our research.

The mangroves in the Guatemalan side of Rio San Pedro had already been mentioned in at least two publications, one by Bestelmeyer and Alonso (2000) and the other by Castellanos (2006). However these appear to be the only mentions or publications that talk about these trees.

Moreover, once our team started investigating this area, we looked through satellite images of Rio San Pedro. We found that most of the river’s basin is already deforested and consequently, we concluded that the only chances of finding mangroves would be by asking local people and navigating the river.

Mangrove propagules found at Rio San Pedro. Photo by: David Arrivillaga. Rio San Pedro, March, 2023.

In March, the team went on an expedition and was able to find and photograph the mangrove trees. Since then, the team has learned a lot about these mangroves’ history and ecology. Some of the things we’ve learned are that these plants might have first gotten here 120,000 years ago, because of a higher altitude of the sea level (Aburto-Oropeza et al., 2021). Nowadays, they still survive in the area because there is a high concentration of calcium in Rio San Pedro (Aburto-Oropeza et al., 2021). If it was not for the leakage of calcium to the river (from the karstic soils that surround it), these mangroves wouldn’t still be growing here. In fact, mangroves are coastal species that grow only on brackish water, with the ones of Rio San Pedro being an amusing exception.


Mangrove flowers found at Rio San Pedro. Photo by: David Arrivillaga. Rio San Pedro, March, 2023.

We are currently finishing a PDF report with the photographs of this expedition and helpful data that may assist you, if you are a student or researcher, to learn more about these remarkable mangroves. We hope that our work and the documentation we are doing can encourage you, and the local authorities to study and protect them. As mentioned before, most of the river basin is deforested and only a few vegetation patches persist, so the risk of losing these trees is alarmingly high.

We are also planning a second expedition to this area later on this month and we encourage you to look in the next few weeks for the PDF on this topic as well as others on different ecosystems of the same area.

Bibliography on mangroves from Rio San Pedro:

  • 2021
  • Relict inland mangrove ecosystem reveals Last Interglacial sea levels. 
    Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 2021. Vol. 118, No. 41.

    Note: This is Aburto-Oropeza et al. ambitious study. They even found another mangrove species, Conocarpus erectus, in the inland mangrove associations from Tabasco, as well as other plant species which are characteristic of coastal mangrove associations.

  • BALICK, Michael J., NEE, Michael H. and Daniel E. ATHA
  • 2000
  • Checklist of the Vascular Plants of Belize: With Common Names and Uses.

    Memoirs of the New York Botanical Garden Vol. 85. 246 pages.

  • BALICK, Michael J. and Rosita ARVIGO
  • 2015
  • Messages from the Gods: A Guide to the Useful Plants of Belize. The New York Botanical Garden, Oxford University Press.
  • BESTELMEYER, Brandon T. and Leeanne E. ALONSO (editors)
  • 2000
  • A Biological Assessment of Laguna del Tigre National Park, Petén, Guatemala. RAP Bulletin of Biological Assessment 16, Conservation International, Washington, DC. 221 pages.

    Free download:

    Note: Rhizophora mangle is mentioned in pages 15 and 37 as being present in Rio San Pedro. More precisely, it is mentioned that the trees are outside of Laguna del Tigre National Park (the fact that they are outside any Park or Reserve increases the risk of these mangroves not being protected).

  • BUENO, Joaquín. ALVAREZ, Fernando and Silvia SANTIAGO (editors)
  • 2005
  • Biodiversidad del Estado de Tabasco. CONABIO, UNAM, Mexico. 370 pages.
  • CABRERA-Cano, E., and A. SÁNCHEZ-Vázquez
  • 2000
  • Rhizophoraceae de la Península de Yucatán (Universidad Autónoma de Yucatán:
    Sostenibilidad Maya, 2000).
  • CASTELLANOS, B. (ed).
  • 2006
  • Plan Maestro Parque Nacional Laguna del Tigre y Biotopo Laguna del Tigre-Río Escondido. Guatemala. Consejo Nacional de Áreas Protegidas – CONAP. Alianza Kanteel. Wildlife Conservation Society. 24 pages.
    Note: The existence and location of mangroves is mentioned in pages 31 and 34.
  • CHIZMAR, Carla
  • 2009
  • Plantas Comestibles de Centroamérica. Instituto Nacional de Biodiversidad (INBio). Santo Domingo de Heredia. Costa Rica. 360 pages.
  • 2022
  • Sediment depth and accretion shape belowground mangrove carbón stocks across a range of climatic and geologic settings. Limnol Oceanogr, 67: S104-S117.

  • 2013
  • Legislación, cambio de uso de suelo y reforestación en manglares de Cárdenas,
    Tabasco [Doctoral thesis]
    . Mexico. Colegio de Postgraduados. 129 pp.

  • 2016
  • Cambios de uso del suelo en manglares de la costa de Tabasco. Revista Mexicana de Ciencias Agricolas Pub. Esp. No. 14. Pp. 2757-2767.
  • LARA, A., DAY, J., VILLALOBOS, G., TWILEY, R., GUILLEN, H., and A. YÁÑEZ-Arancibia
  • 2005
  • Structure of a unique inland mangrove forest assemblage in fossil lagoons on the Caribbean Coast of Mexico. Wetlands Ecology and Management, 13. Pp. 111-122. 10.1007/s11273-004-5197-x.
  • LUNDELL, Cyrus L.
  • 1937
  • The Vegetation of Peten. Carnegie Institution of Washington, Publ. 478. Washington. 244 pages.
  • LUNDELL, Cyrus L.
  • 1938
  • Plants Probably Utilized by the Old Empire Maya of Peten and Adjacent Lowlands. Papers of the Michigan Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters 24, Part I:37-59.
  • MARTINEZ-Camilo, R., GALLARDO-Cruz, J., SOLORZANO, J., PERALTA-Carreta, C., JIMENEZ-Lopez, D., CASTILLO-Acosta, O., SANCHEZ-Gonzalez, M. and J. MEAVE
  • 2020
  • An assessment of the spatial variability of tropical swamp forest along a 300 km long transect in the Usumacinta River Basin, Mexico. Forests. 2020; 11(12):1238.

  • THOM, B.
  • 1967
  • Mangrove Ecology and Deltaic Geomorphology: Tabasco, Mexico. Journal of
    . Vol. 55, No. 2. Pp. 301–343.

  • TREJO-Torres, J., DURAN, R. and I. OLMSTED
  • 1993
  • Manglares de la Península de Yucatán. In: Salazar-Vallejo, S. and N.. González
    (comps.). Biodiversidad Marina y Costera de México. CONABIO and CIQRO. Pp. 660-672.k.
Author: Sergio D’angelo Jerez
Bibliographic compilation prepared by Maria José Toralla and Sergio D’angelo Jerez

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