map of Mexico
Mexico City
tropica forest Mexico

An overview

With a size of 1.9 million km², Mexico is 5.5 times as large as Germany and is politically divided into 31 states and a federal district (Distrito Federal, D.F.).

Mexico features a very complex geological setting and – as a result of its large latitudinal extension (from 32° to 14° North) – has a strong climatic north-south gradient. Due to its location on the boundary between two biogeographic regions and its great environmental heterogeneity, Mexico belongs to the global biodiversity hotspots and holds a unique flora and fauna.

In 2011, Mexico had a total estimated population of 114 million persons, with significant differences in population density throughout the country. As a result of settlement history, favorable conditions for agriculture, and commercial opportunities, the major agglomerations are found in the central parts, in seaports, and close to the US border. Areas in use for agriculture or livestock production cover more than 50% of Mexico’s territory while approximately one quarter is used for arable farming and three quarters are used for extensive ranching.

In recent years, the extent of woody vegetation cover has significantly been reduced or compromised by agriculture and the production of livestock. Annual deforestation rates of 0.25% for temperate and 0.76% for tropical forests have been reported. Large portions of the remnant forests in the country are fragmented or disturbed and covered by secondary vegetation.

Research objectives

Given the importance of Mexico as a global biodiversity hotspot and the rapid land cover change leading to high species extinction rates, we aim at (1) understanding biodiversity patterns and predicting them to non-surveyed sites, (2) identifying remnant habitat, and (3) developing integrated research approaches to support the sustainable use of natural resources. In particular, we examine the usefulness of multi-temporal remote sensing data for modeling species distributions and species richness at the national scale. For this purpose, we use different Terra-MODIS Land products such as the Enhanced Vegetation Index (EVI), Reflectance Data, and Land Surface Temperature (LST) to derive phenological and statistical metrics. Among others, we study the suitability of continuous remote sensing variables in comparison with categorical land cover classification data and the criteria for selecting appropriate remote sensing data depending on species characteristics. In addition, we apply stacked species distribution modeling (S-SDM) approaches to compile species richness maps.

On the regional scale (in particular in the state of Oaxaca), we develop integrated research approaches concerning human development and the sustainable use of natural resources. Our research activities are mainly oriented towards the evaluation of human settlements and recent land use changes, the evaluation of natural resources for municipal development, and the design and quality control of databases for biodiversity monitoring and for modeling distribution patterns of amphibians, birds, reptiles and mammals.


Planned excursion in Environmental Geography: Human-environment interactions in Oaxaca, Mexico

The dynamically developing state of Oaxaca is home to unique landscapes and ecosystems covering large altitudinal and climatic gradients. In this environmental setting several social and economic processes occur such as economic development, migration, land-use change, which are partly overusing or degrading natural resources e.g. in terms of erosion of soils, or increasing inputs of sediments nutrients and toxic substances into rivers and lagoons. The excursion aims at providing examples for the large range of environmental conditions of Oaxaca (e.g. altitudinal gradient with corresponding natural vegetation & land-use systems) as well as examples for positive and problematic socio-environmental processes such as land-use conflicts around lagoons or eco-farming of coffee. It is planned to work with mixed Mexican-German groups of students, from Universidad del Mar (UMAR), Martin Luther University of Halle (MLU) and University of Leipzig (UL).

Selected Publications

Cord, A. & Rödder, D. (2011). Inclusion of habitat availability in species distribution models through multi-temporal remote sensing data?. Ecological Applications, 21(8), 3285-3298.

Hernandez-Santiago, Cuitlahuac & Volk, M. (2012). Semi-automatic delimitation of buffer zones for protected areas: A contribution from Species Distribution Modelling. Proceedings of 2012 International Congress on Environmental Modelling and Software. R.Seppelt, A.A. Voinov, S. Lange, D. Bankamp (Eds.).

Valdez-Vazquez, I., Acevedo-Benítez, J.A., & Hernández-Santiago, C. (2010). Distribution and potential of bioenergy resources from agricultural activities in Mexico. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, 14(7), 2147-2153.


Dr. Anna Cord

Dr. Jörg Priess

Cuitlahuac Hernandez Santiago

PD Dr. Martin Volk


CONABIO - National Commission for the Knowledge and Use of Biodiversity (Comisión Nacional para el Conocimiento y Uso de la Biodiversidad

UMAR – University of the Sea (Universidad del Mar)