In the early 1500s, Spain invaded what is now Mexico and colonized Indigenous land including the Valley of Mexico. The area’s entire ecosystem—the community of organisms interacting with each other and their physical surroundings—changed. Many lakes were drained to build cities and control flooding. Others dried up because of climate change. That greatly reduced the axolotls’ habitat.
Today, wild axolotls are found only in the narrow canals and waterways of Xochimilco (soh-cheeMEEL-koh), a district of Mexico City. These waterways are what remains of the ancient lakes that once spanned the Valley of Mexico.
In Xochimilco, farmers still use the chinampa system to produce vegetables and flowers for Mexico City, says Mendoza. Unfortunately, the region suffers from pollution, urbanization, and the introduction of invasive species, like carp and tilapia. These fish eat young axolotls and compete with larger, mature axolotls for food.