Key questions for understanding the resilience and variability of Mexican Neotropical cloud forest assemblages in current and future climate change include: How have human disturbances and climate change affected the dynamics of the cloud forest assemblage? What are the predominant processes responsible for its present day composition and distribution? Are the current conservation strategies for the cloud forest in accordance with preserving its natural variability through time? In this study, the temporal dynamics of the cloud forest in west-central Mexico over the last ~1300 years were reconstructed using palaeoecological techniques. These included analyses of fossil pollen, microfossil charcoal, and sediment geochemistry. Results indicated that a cloud forest assemblage has been the predominant vegetation type in this region over the last ~1300 years. During this time, however, there have been changes in the vegetation with an apparent expansion of cloud forest from ~832 to 620 cal years BP and a decline from 1200 to 832 cal years BP. Climate change (intervals of aridity) and human disturbances through anthropogenic burning appear to have been the main factors influencing the dynamics of this cloud forest. The spatial heterogeneity reported for high-altitude forests in this region, in concert with high beta diversity, appears to be a manifestation of the high temporal variability in species composition for these forests. Greater turnover in cloud forest taxa occurred during intervals of increased humidity and is probably representative of a higher temporal competition for resources among the cloud forest taxa. The present results support the current protection scheme for cloud forests in west-central Mexico where areas are kept in exclusion zones to avoid timber extraction, grazing, and agriculture; this will maintain diversity within these forests, even if there are only a few individuals per species, and enable the forests to retain some resilience to current and future climate change. © 2009 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.