Biodiversity in Belize
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Tropical Lepidoptera

J.C. Meerman

April 27, 2002


1.     Introduction

This overview is the result of a study carried out for the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor System (iv.13.1.2). The aim of the study was to establish a baseline of studies carried out on Belize’s biodiversity.

The main product of this study was a database with 2354 title entries. These titles were found by:

  1. Physically inspecting some of the larger libraries in Belize
  2. Performing a “snowball” search in the reference sections of the papers found in these libraries
  3. A web-search

These papers found all have in common that they refer in some form or another to the biodiversity of Belize.

2.     Results

2.1.         General

Of the 2354 entries in the database, the largest amount (85%) consisted of actually published titles.

Published and unpublished titles

Only 15 % of the titles where referable as “gray literature” (internal reports, PhD Theses, EIA studies etc.) A very small number of studies have been published on the web. Undoubtedly this method of publicizing will become more important in the future.

Disturbing was the low number of titles that could actually be traced IN Belize. From an astonishing 80% of the titles it could not be established whether copies were available in Belize or not. It is still common practice that results of research carried out in Belize do not return to this country. If they do, they also have a large chance of getting “lost” (the inadequate or even absent filing systems of the Belizean Libraries being the main culprit in this). In the best case, such reports end up in private libraries, but then they are not accessible to the public.

The actual number of Belizean biodiversity related websites is still rather small, but the web proved to be an important source for references and even some reports. With time this medium will increase in importance.

2.2.         Marine environment

Since Belize has the second largest barrier reef in the world, the marine component is very important in Belize’s biodiversity. Consequently it was important to look at the marine component in the number of titles recorded.

Somewhat surprisingly it was found that only 277 or 12% of the titles have reference to the marine or coastal zone component of Belize’s biodiversity.

When investigated, this discrepancy continues throughout the major taxonomic groups. Even, for the fishes, the majority of the titles deal with inland fishes.

The same is true for reptiles (which have an important component consisting of marine turtles), and for birds, many of which have to be considered marine or shore birds in the coastal zone.



When considering all taxonomic groups in the “marine titles” the invertebrates (the orders in the back of the pie below) are with 50 % by far the largest group. Nevertheless this is still an under-representation of this large and important group. Other, less species diverse groups such as marine mammals, birds and reptiles are in this sense over-represented with 23 % of the titles.

2.3.         All organisms.

Looking more broadly and analysing the taxonomic groupings as a whole, it becomes clear that the vertebrates with 48 % of the titles are very well presented considering that this is a relatively “species poor” group of organisms.

Titles by taxonomic group

The largest group of organisms, the invertebrates (in this case: marine invertebrates, insects, arachnids, protozoa) have only 31 % of the titles. With 21% of the titles, the Floristic section and the Fungi are also under-represented.

Looking specifically at the mammals. It is clear that there is a lot of attention for only a few of the larger, more charismatic species such as Manatees and Black Howler Monkeys. Other charismatic species such as Jaguar and Tapir are surprisingly under-represented in the titles. Bats as a group have instigated a large number of titles, but this is also a large and diverse group. Approximately half of Belize’s mammals are bats.

  Mammal groups

The same is true for the insects. In this extremely species diverse group, only a few orders are well represented. Most important in these are the Diptera (Flies, Mosquito’s, etc.). This high number of titles is mainly due to the medical interest in this group. Many Diptera have medical importance as vectors and distributors of human and agricultural diseases.

  Insect groups

The second largest group studied is the Lepidoptera (Butterflies and Moths). This is probably caused by the fact that most Lepidoptera are fairly large, often colourful and easier to identify than most other insect groups.

2.4.         Non taxonomic titles

Finally, there are several titles that do not directly relate to a specific group. Such papers instead relate to more general issues such as forestry, ecology, fisheries, agriculture etc. etc. No less than 36% of the titles recorded could be earmarked as “non-taxonomic”

There will be some overlap with “taxonomic titles, since some titles will deal with more than one subject. A paper dealing on the silviculture of the Caribbean Pine, for example will be considered both floristic as well as forestry related. Forestry, medical, agriculture, geology and sociology (although the last two are not strictly dealing with biodiversity, the titles included here usually have a strong biodiversity link) are the three most frequently recorded subjects.

2.5. Time periods

When analyzing the data, it becomes clear that there has been an increase in the number of titles in time. But when grouping the data by decade it shows that the pace of this increase has not been steady



Throughout the 19th century, the number of titles produced is very small indeed; an increase becomes visible only in the 1920’ies. This gradual increase only lasts until the end of the 1930’ies. After that there is a lull in the number of titles produced. Then, in the 1960’ies the number of titles again starts to increase and this increase is sustained up to date (note that the number of titles in the 2000 – 2009 period is extrapolated from the number of titles produced in 2000 and 2001).


Throughout this period the title categories have not been the same. The analysis shows that the small peak during the period 1920 – 1960 is largely caused by forestry and flora related titles. After this period of interest, forestry never regains this level of publishing dedication. Marine (and coastal zone) titles have their time of glory during the 1980’ies. Floristic titles appear again very strongly in the period 1990 –1999. Special mention also need the category “medical”. In the period 1960 – 1979, these usually have reference to medical entomology, i.e. the research into mosquito’s, sandflies, their protozoa and mammalian hosts.

3.      Important publications and websites

The major groups of Belizean organisms are reasonably well covered. Especially during the past decade, a number of important publications have appeared. By taxonomic grouping:


Vertebrates general

The best site for Belizean Vertebrate data is the Belize Biodiversity Information System (BBIS): managed by the Wildlife Conservation Society. This website has cross-referenced Bird, Fish, Mammal, Reptile and Amphibian data focusing on distribution within Belize’s protected areas system.



The online-checklist is

The only printed publication dealing strictly with Belize’s mammals is: McCarthy, T. J., and E. Méndez. (1998) Mammals of Belize: A Checklist. (19 pp). This is a brief checklist with some pen drawings, and information on diet, distribution, habitat and locomotion.

For information on distribution of the Belizean mammals, the BBIS website is important:

One website deals with manatee research and gives frequently updated maps indicating the presence of some radio-tagged manatees:


The most accessible checklist to the birds of Belize is: Miller, B. W. & C. M. Miller (1998), Birds of Belize: A Checklist (40 pp).

The most recently updated checklist is at This is based (with permission) on the the list produced by H. Lee Jones and A. C. Vallely (Lynx editions).This booklet is the most authoritative, detailed, and up-to-date checklist and reports 566 bird species reliably recorded in Belize.

This list is frequently updated in the website: This site also gives information about distribution.

For identification of Belizean birds, ornithologists have to rely on books designed for Mexico and/or North America. A new book dealing strictly with Belizean birds (both resident and migrant), with excellent plates is:

Jones. L. (in press) A Field Guide to the Birds of Belize.


Reptiles and Amphibians

The herpetology of Belize is very well covered. With several major publications:

Lee, J. C. (1996). The Amphibians and Reptiles of the Yucatan Peninsula. 500 pp.

Lee, J. C. (2000). Amphibians and Reptiles of the Maya World. 402 pp

Stafford, P. J. & J. R. Meyer. (1999). A Guide to the Reptiles of Belize. 356 pp.

Meyer, J. R. & C. Farneti Foster, (1996) A Guide to the Frogs and Toads of Belize

The most updated species list are to be found on the site: and

Continuous reporting on the Anuran (frogs and toads) monitoring system can be found on the site:



The inland fishes of Belize are well documented and an annotated key exists:

Greenfield, D. W. and Thomerson, J.E.  (1997) Fishes of the Continental Waters of Belize.

Unfortunately there are no monographs dealing with the marine fishes of Belize.



Boomsma, T. & S.W. Dunkle. 1996. Odonata of Belize. Odonatologica 25 (1): 17-29

An annotated checklist for some Lepidoptera families is: Meerman, J. C. (1999) Lepidoptera of Belize: 1) Butterflies, 2) Emperor moths and Hawk moths. 61 pp.

For many Lepidoptera groups see: An excellent site dealing with Belizean insects is: This site pictures most species of most important “Macro-moths” (Lepidoptera) together with some distributional information.


The most current and accurate checklist of the vascular flora of Belize is: Balick, M. J., M. H. Nee & D. E. Atha (2000), Checklist of the Vascular Plants of Belize (246 pp).

This checklist reports 3408 vascular plants for Belize. Unfortunately there is no information on distribution or status of the plants. The information from this publication is also published on the website:

An expanding number of species lists can be found at:

The only real flora (with identification keys) strictly for Belize is: Standley, P. C., and S. J. Record. (1936), The Forests and Flora of British Honduras. But this work is very incomplete. More reliable (but outdated as well) is: Standley, P. C., J. A. Steyermark & L. O. Williams (1946-1977) Flora of Guatemala. 13 vols

There are no other monographic publications on the flora of Belize. There are two keys to individual families:

McLeish, I., N. R. Pearce & B. R. Adams. 1995. Native Orchids of Belize. 278 pp.

Meerman, J. C. (1996). Vegetative Key to the Passionflowers of Belize. 4 pp.



Recently an ecosystems mapping effort for Belize has been completed

Meerman, J. and W. Sabido. 2001. Central American Ecosystems: Belize. Programme for Belize, Belize City. 2 volumes 50 + 88 pp.

A simplified version of the map can be found at:

And an Adobe acrobat version of the report is available from the WorldBank website:

The original ArcView shapefiles can also be downloaded from the WorldBank website:


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