An Excerpt from Jim Conrad's
Naturalist Newsletter of November 27, 2006

Marsh in Ria Lagartos Biosphere Reserve

PETÉNS & MARSHES

The word "petén" in Petén Tucha describes an important component of this area's wetland ecosystem. A petén is a low rising or hammock, usually round to oval shaped, emerging from the wet marsh. You can see one of the marshes I hiked across this week above.

No peténs appear in that picture but if they did they'd show up as no more than a clump of trees surrounded by flat marsh. The important thing about peténs is that they contribute enormously to a marsh's biodiversity.

In fact, a petén is typically surrounded by concentric rings of biological zones, each ring harboring plants and animals adapted to a particular water depth or elevation above high tide. At the heart of the petén ecosystem stand trees such as palms, strangler figs, Poisontrees (Metopium), Chicle Trees and frangipani (Plumeria). Next to the water Logwood trees appear. Eventually trees give way to grasses, cattails and the like, and then to submerged vegetation.

Often larger mammals take refuge among a petén's trees and birds often roost and nest there. A petén is an ecological island.

Those of you familiar with Guatemala may know that northern Guatemala is referred to as The Petén. That's because most of northern Guatemala is fairly flat, seasonally flooded, and during the rainy season there are lots of island-peténs there.