Agave salmiana Plant Communities in Central Mexico as Affected by Commercial Use

Abstract

Agave salmiana is a native plant species harvested for the commercial production of mezcal (Agave spirits) in the highlands of central Mexico. The objective of this study was to identify vegetation changes in natural communities where A. salmiana has been differentially harvested for commercial purposes. Three plant community categories were identified in the state of Zacatecas based on their history of A. salmiana utilization: short (less than 10 years of use), moderate (about 25 years), and long (60 or more years). Species cover, composition, and density were evaluated in field surveys by use category. A gradient of vegetation structure of the communities parallels the duration of A. salmiana use. A. salmiana density was greatest (3,125 plants ha−1) in the short-use areas and less (892 plants ha−1) in the moderate-use areas, associated with markedly greater density of shrubs (200%) and Opuntia spp. (50%) in moderate-use areas. The main shrubs were Larrea tridentata, Mimosa biuncifera, Jatropha dioica and Buddleia scordioides while the main Opuntia species were Opuntia leucotricha and Opuntia robusta. A. salmiana density was least (652 plants ha−1) in the long-use areas where shrubs were less abundant but Opuntia spp. density was 25% higher than in moderate-use areas. We suggest that shrubs may increase with moderate use creating an intermediate successional stage that facilitates the establishment of Opuntia spp. Long-term Agave use is generating new plant communities dominated by Opuntia spp. (nopaleras) as a replacement of the original communities dominated by A. salmiana (magueyeras).

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Acknowledgments

We gratefully acknowledge the Consejo Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnología (CONACYT, Mexico) for supporting the postdoctoral appointment of the senior author at Oregon State University during the time the manuscript was developed. Thanks also to Dr. Mike Borman for kindly reviewing an earlier version of this paper and to Dr. Edmundo Garcia-Moya for providing sources for mezcal production data.

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Correspondence to Ricardo Mata-González.

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Martínez Salvador, M., Mata-González, R., Morales Nieto, C. et al. Agave salmiana Plant Communities in Central Mexico as Affected by Commercial Use. Environmental Management 49, 55–63 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00267-011-9759-4

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Keywords

  • Magueyera
  • Mezcal
  • Nopalera
  • Opuntia
  • Shrub replacement