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Biosphere, Fauna and Flora in Cuba Naturaleza
Cuba Naturaleza Biodiversity

Lanier Wetland and the southern part of Isla de la Juventud

The Lanier Wetland is located south of the western region of Cuba in the Canareos Archipelago, specifically on the southern part of Isla de la Juventud. It is made up of the Ciénaga de Lanier, which crosses the centre of the island in a west–east–northeast direction. It runs from the bay of Siguanea to the eastern mouth of the San Juán River forming a natural geographical barrier that divides the northern part of the island from the karst plain in the south, including nearby marine areas.

There are several biotopes, especially the semi-deciduous forest, lagoon reefs, beds of marine grasses, mangroves and swamp grasslands, among others. They are habitat to a wide diversity of fauna and flora in good conservation status, in addition to containing traces of pre-Columbian cultures that lived here. This entire region is considered a protected area of managed resources (IUCN category VI) containing several proposed nucleus areas with the most representative elements of the marine and terrestrial fauna and flora of the wetland. There are several endemic species, listed in protected categories.

Lanier Wetland
North latitude 21° 30’ – 21° 42’
West longitude 82° 36’ – 83° 00’
Altitude: 3 metres above sea level
Area: 126,200 hectares

The southern part of the island is a karst plain, through which underground drainage occurs that empties into the sea in the south. There are no surface currents, given that all rivers empty north of Ciénaga de Lanier, which is the point of discharge of underground and surface water from the north. Ciénaga de Lanier is the source for recharging the karst plain in the south. This is the largest natural freshwater reserve in the Canareos Archipelago.

The genetic diversity of the wetland is expressed through the composition of its fauna and flora. The flora is represented by 556 species of higher plants and 13 species of fern. Approximately 105 species are endemic, of which three are limited to this area.

We can find here in the Swamp Forests the Jagüey (Ficus sp.) and Cuban Royal Palm (Roystonea regia), as well as Cyperaceae in the grassland. Dominant species are the júcaros (Bucida sp.), epiphytes such as orchids (Encylia sp.) and Bromeliaceae (Tillandsia sp.), thorny lianas and ferns (Nephrolepis sp.). The soil is mostly peat in which buttonwood, palma cana, bagá (Annona glabra), roble (Tabebuia sp.) and hicaco (Chrysobalanus icaco) grow.

The Swamp Grassland has a herbaceous stratum with cortadera (Cladiun jamaicense), macío (Thypha dominguensis), Cyperus sp. and carnivores in the genus Utricularia, which vary in height from 50 centimetres to more than 1.50 metres in some places; all in muddy soil. There are small cays with inland swamp forests with dominance of bagá, hicaco and júcaro, and bordering the grassland júcaro espinoso (Bucida angustifolia) and abundant epiphytes appear.

The genetic diversity of the wetland is expressed through the composition of its fauna and flora. The flora is represented by 556 species of higher plants and 13 species of fern. Approximately 105 species are endemic, of which three are limited to this area. The fauna is also important because of its diversity and the degree of endemism of several groups, such as terrestrial molluscs of which there are at least 23 forms with two endemic forms specific to this place. Birds are well represented by 52 species of scientific, biological and aesthetic importance and for hunting. The bird species are classified as local resident, and 15 of them are considered endemic. Twenty species of reptiles have been recorded including six endemic subspecies. Mammals are represented by three forms of Rodentia and Caviomorpha: two endemic subspecies and a local species.

In these habitats, we can find species such as the black-billed wood-duck (yaguaza) (Dendrocygna arborea), garza azul (Egretta caerulea), great white egret (garzón) (Casmerodius albus), canario de manglar (Dendroica petechia), mayito de ciénaga (Agelaius assimilis), señorita de manglar (Seiurus noveboracensis) and coco blanco (Eudocimus albus). In addition, several species of migratory ducks that visit the area during the winter (October–March) have been recorded in the coastal lagoons.

This region is an important nesting site for several species of fauna, such as the paloma cabeciblanca (Columba leucocephala), which nests in the forests and mangroves. Sea turtles, namely the green turtle (Chelonia mydas) and the loggerhead (Caretta caretta), lay their eggs on the beaches and the American crocodile (Crocodylus acutus) is abundant here. This wetland provides habitat for the life cycles of several endemic species, such as the Cuban crocodile (Crocodylus rhombifer) and the Cuban Gar (Atractosteus tristoechus).

Among the freshwater vertebrates, the manjuarí (Atractosteus tristoechus) (Lepidosteidae) stands out. It plays an important ecological role and is restricted to the Lanier and Zapata swamps. Other species of freshwater fish also endemic to Cuba found in this area are the Cichlasoma tetracantha, Cubanichthys cubensis, Gambusia punctata and G. punticulata.

This region is significantly important because large populations of juvenile saltwater fish develop here because of the existence of large areas of coastal lowlands, inland lagoons and mangroves, providing considerable diversity of habitat.

Cuba Naturaleza Biodiversity

© 2023 Nigel Hunt