In revegetation projects, distinguishing species that can be passively restored by natural regeneration from those requiring active restoration is not a trivial decision. We quantified tree species dominance (measured by an importance value index, IVIi) and used abundance–size correlations to select those species suitable for passive and/or active restoration of disturbed riparian vegetation in the Lacandonia region, Southern Mexico. We sampled riparian vegetation in a 50 × 10–m transect in each of six reference (RE) and five disturbed (DE) riparian ecosystems. Those species representing more than 50% of total IVI in each ecosystem were selected, and Spearman rank correlation between abundance and diameter classes was calculated. For eight species, it was determined that passive restoration could be sufficient for their establishment. Another eight species could be transplanted by means of active restoration. Five species regenerate well in only one ecosystem type, suggesting that both restoration strategies could be used depending on the degree of degradation. Finally, two species were determined to not be suitable for restoration in the RE (based on the above selection criteria) and were not selected during this initial stage of our restoration project. The high number of tree species found in the RE suggests that the species pool for ecological restoration is large. However, sampling in both ecosystem types helped us reduce the number of species that requires active restoration. Restoration objectives must guide the selection of which methods to implement; in different conditions, other criteria such as dispersal syndrome or social value could be considered in the species selection.