The term ecosystem was coined in 1930 to denote the physical and biological components of an environment considered in relation to each other as a unit; the whole complex of physical factors forming what we call the environment.
The degree of species diversity or biological diversity – popularly referred to as biodiversity – of an ecosystem has been hypothesized to contribute to greater resilience of the ecosystem as the biodiversity increases.
Mexico is one of the 18 countries of the world that have been defined as “megadiverse”. With over 200,000 different species, Mexico is home of 10–12% of the world’s biodiversity. Mexico ranks first in numbers of reptiles with 707 known species, second in mammals with 438 species, fourth in amphibians with 290 species, and fourth in flora, with 26,000 different species. Mexico also ranks first in number of species of cactus.
Mexico is considered to have the second most ecosystems in the world and fourth most overall species. Approximately 2,500 species are protected by Mexican legislation. The Mexican government created the National System of Information about Biodiversity in order to study and promote the sustainable use of ecosystems.
In Mexico, 170,000 square kilometers are considered “Protected Natural Areas.” These include 34 reserve biospheres (unaltered ecosystems), 64 national parks, 4 natural monuments (protected in perpetuity for their aesthetic, scientific or historical value), 26 areas of protected flora and fauna, 4 areas for natural resource protection (conservation of soil, hydrological basins and forests) and 17 sanctuaries (zones rich indiverse species).
The Lake Chapala region is representative of the whole country in the diversity that it is possible to encounter. Encroachment by humans has reduced the species of wildlife in the area, but irrigation has probably increased the available flora. Species of birds and butterflies do not seem to have suffered from human intrusion as there are literally hundreds of each.
Large colonies of white garzas (herons) and snowy egrets are to be found on the lakeshore. Herons regularly take to the giant eucalyptus trees at dusk. Cinsontle, jilguero sparrows and kiskadees are some of the birds most often seen in town.
Because of contamination, the fish population of the Lake has been reduced. Charales, white fish (very rare), carp and bagre are still caught by fishermen and consumed by villagers. Today, most fish sold in restaurants is brought from the ocean or the gulf. Charales, a very common treat around Lakeside, is a very small fish, dried and eaten as a snack.
If you are interested in horticulture, you can construct gardens, flower pots or entire estates of whatever species of plants strike your fancy. Plant papaya or grapefruit trees, banana or pineapple plants; try tomatoes, squash, chilis, or some of the more exotic local fruits and vegetables. If flowers are your passion, there is no end to the variety you can grow and enjoy.
Almost every plant will grow in this ideal climate, so home gardens usually have a great variety of trees, plants and flowers. Fruit trees – mango, lemon, tangerine, guayaba, orange, banana, avocado – are very common. Grains, fruits and vegetables, sold in the markets, and even from the sidewalks, are always available.
There are a few small farms in Chapala that grow corn, wheat, peas, chick-pea, and sorghum. A small amount of cotton is produced. In the mountains, and by season, nopal and camote are harvested. The nopal is a cactus and is a common ingredient in numerous Mexican cuisine dishes. They can be eaten raw or cooked, used in marmalades, soups stews and salads, as well as being used for traditional medicine or as fodder for animals. The other part of the nopal cactus that is edible is the fruit called the tuna in Spanish, and the “prickly pear” in English. The camote is a wild tuber and is sold as snack and food served in plastic bags, bottle sauce or chili powder tree, salt and a generous dose of lemon juice