Brazil's Atlantic Forest (Mata Atlântica)
Scientists: well-managed forest restoration benefits both biodiversity and people
(12/16/2013) In November this year, the world was greeted by the dismaying news that deforestation of the Brazilian Amazon jumped 28% in the past year. The year 2013 also holds the dubious distinction of being the first time since humans appeared on the planet, that carbon concentrations in the atmosphere rose to 400 parts per million. A map by Google revealed that Russia, Brazil, the United States, Canada and Indonesia all displayed over 10 million hectares of gross forest loss from 2000-2012, with the highest deforestation rate occurring in Malaysia.
Odd porcupine hugely imperiled by hunting, deforestation
(12/16/2013) The thin-spined porcupine, also known as the bristle-spined rat, is a truly distinct animal: a sort of cross between New World porcupines and spiny rats with genetic research showing it is slightly closer to the former rather than the latter. But the thin-spined porcupine (Chaetomys subspinosus), found only in Brazil's Atlantic Forest, is imperiled by human activities. In fact, a new study in mongabay.com's open access journal Tropical Conservation Science found that the species remains a target for hunters, despite a reputation for tasting terrible.
Scientists discover new cat species roaming Brazil
(11/27/2013) As a family, cats are some of the most well-studied animals on Earth, but that doesn't mean these adept carnivores don't continue to surprise us. Scientists have announced today the stunning discovery of a new species of cat, long-confused with another. Looking at the molecular data of small cats in Brazil, researchers found that the tigrina—also known as the oncilla in Central America—is actually two separate species. The new species has been dubbed Leopardus guttulus and is found in the Atlantic Forest of southern Brazil, while the other Leopardus tigrinus is found in the cerrado and Caatinga ecosystems in northeastern Brazil.
Forest fragmentation leading to higher extinction rates
(08/13/2013) The world's species are in worse trouble than widely-assumed, according to a new paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), which reevaluates how scientists estimate extinction rates. The new model takes into account the impact of forest fragmentation on extinction rates for the first time, filling in a gap in past estimates. Much of the world's tropical forests, which house the bulk of the world's species, have been whittled down to fragments: small forest islands that no longer connect to larger habitat. According to the paper, species confined to fragments have a higher likelihood of vanishing.
Little NGO takes on goliath task: conserving the vanishing ecosystems of Paraguay
(08/12/2013) Landlocked in the navel of South America, the forests, wetlands and savannahs of Paraguay boast rich biodiversity and endemic species, yet the unique landscapes of Paraguay also face increasing threats, primarily from agricultural expansion. Controlled burns and clear cutting have become common practice as wildlands are converted for soy and cattle production. In some areas this land conversion is rapid: the Paraguayan Chaco, for instance, is being lost at a rate of 10% per year. One organization is working to reverse this trend. Para La Tierra (PLT) is a small NGO dedicated to the conservation of threatened habitats in Paraguay. Located on the Reserva Natural Laguna Blanca, in-between two of South America's most threatened habitats: the Atlantic Forest and the vast topical savannah known as the cerrado, PLT is in a unique position to champion conservation.
On guard: protecting wildlife in a heavily hunted Brazilian forest
(06/24/2013) The Brazilian government offers tax relief to landowners who set aside areas for preservation. While this has expanded the system of private ecological reserves considerably, the Brazilian government currently lacks funding to enforce the protection of these lands from threats such as hunting, leaving the responsibility to the landowners.
Loss of big fruit-eating birds impacting trees in endangered rainforests
(05/31/2013) The extinction of large, fruit-eating birds in fragments of Brazil's Atlantic rainforest has caused palm trees to produce smaller seeds over the past century, impacting forest ecology, finds a study published in the journal Science.
New insect discovered in Brazil, only third known in its bizarre family (photos)
(04/15/2013) A new species of forcepfly named Austromerope brasiliensis, was recently discovered in Brazil and described in the open access journal Zoo Keys. This is the first discovery of forcepfly in the Neotropics and only the third known worldwide. The forcepfly, often called the earwigfly because the male genital forceps closely resemble the cerci of the common earwig, remains a scientific enigma due to the lack of information on the family.
New species tree-dwelling porcupine discovered in critically threatened Brazilian habitat
(04/11/2013) Scientists in Brazil have described a new species of tree-dwelling porcupine in the country's most endangered ecosystems. The description is published in last week's issue of Zootaxa.
Nest of one of world's rarest birds discovered for the first time
(01/17/2013) A nest belonging to one of the world's rarest birds has been discovered by researchers for the first time in Brazil, reports the American Bird Conservancy.
Recovery of Atlantic Forest depends on land-use histories
(12/10/2012) The intensity of land-use influences the speed of regeneration in tropical rainforests, says new research. Tropical rainforests are a priority for biodiversity conservation; they are hotspots of endemism but also some of the most threatened global habitats. The Atlantic Forest stands out among tropical rainforests, hosting an estimated 8,000 species of endemic plants and more than 650 endemic vertebrates. However, only around 11 percent of these forests now remain.
Endangered muriqui monkeys in Brazil full of surprises
(11/26/2012) On paper, the northern muriquis (Brachyteles hypoxanthus) look like a conservation comeback story. Three decades ago, only 60 of the gentle, tree-dwelling primates lived in a fragment of the Atlantic Forest along the eastern coast of Brazil. Now there are more than 300. But numbers don’t tell the whole story, according to anthropologist Karen Strier and theoretical ecologist Anthony Ives of the University of Wisconsin, Madison. The pair analyzed 28 years of data on the demographics of the muriquis, one of the longest studies of its kind. They found surprising patterns about birth and death rates, sex ratios, and even how often the monkeys venture out of their trees. These findings raise questions about the muriquis’ long-term survival and how best to protect them, the scientists wrote in the Sept 17 issue of PLoS ONE.
Happy Halloween: nine new species of tree-climbing tarantula discovered
(10/31/2012) If you suffer from acute arachnophobia, this is the perfect Halloween discovery for you: a spider expert has discovered nine new species of arboreal (tree-dwelling) tarantulas in the Brazil. Although tarantula diversity is highest in the Amazon rainforest, the new species are all found in lesser-known Brazilian ecosystems like the Atlantic Forest, of which less than 7 percent remains, and the cerrado, a massive savannah that is being rapidly lost to agriculture and cattle ranching.
Key mammals dying off in rainforest fragments
(08/15/2012) When the Portuguese first arrived on the shores of what is now Brazil, a massive forest waited for them. Not the Amazon, but the Atlantic Forest, stretching for over 1.2 million kilometers. Here jaguars, the continent's apex predator, stalked peccaries, while tapirs waded in rivers and giant anteaters unearthed termites mounds. Here, also, the Tupi people numbered around a million people. Now, almost all of this gone: 93 percent of the Atlantic Forest has been converted to agriculture, pasture, and cities, the bulk of it lost since the 1940s. The Tupi people are largely vanished due to slavery and disease, and, according to a new study in the open access journal PLoS ONE, so are many of the forest's megafauna, from jaguars to giant anteaters.
Deforestation in Brazil's Mata Atlantica drops
(06/06/2012) Deforestation of Brazil's Mata Atlântica — a forest ecosystem more threatened than the Amazon rainforest — fell to 133 square kilometers between 2010 and 2011, down about 14.7 percent from the annual average between 2008 and 2010, reports Brazil's National Institute for Space Research (INPE) and Fundação SOS Mata Atlântica.
Tribe partners to protect Argentina's most endangered forest
(05/17/2012) Last month, three Guarani communities, the local Argentine government of Misiones, and the UK-based NGO World Land Trust forged an agreement to create a nature reserve connecting three protected areas in the fractured, and almost extinct, Atlantic Forest. Dubbed the Emerald Green Corridor, the reserve protects 3,764 hectares (9,301 acres) in Argentina; although relatively small, the land connects three protected other protected areas creating a combined conservation area (41,000 hectares) around the size of Barbados in the greater Yaboti Biosphere Reserve. In Argentina only 1 percent of the historical Atlantic Forest survives.
Invasive primates threaten Atlantic Forest natives
(03/19/2012) Scientists have called for the removal of eight invasive primates from Brazil's imperiled Atlantic Forest in a new study published in mongabay.com's open access journal Tropical Conservation Society. The researchers fear that the eight alien monkeys could hurt other species due to increased competition, predation, and possible disease.
Expanding ethanol threatens last remnants of Atlantic Forest
(09/26/2011) Aggressively expanding sugarcane ethanol is putting Brazil's nearly-vanished Atlantic Forest at risk, according to an opinion piece in mongabay.com's open-access journal Tropical Conservation Science. Already down to less than 12 percent of its original extent, the Atlantic Forest—home to over 7,000 species that survive no-where else—is facing a new peril from ethanol, used as an alternative to gasoline and often touted as 'green' or 'environmentally-sustainable'.
Atlantic Forest stores less carbon due to drastic fragmentation
(09/26/2011) The Atlantic Forest in Brazil is one of the most fragmented and damaged forests in the world. Currently around 12 percent of the forest survives, with much of it in small fragments, many less than 100 hectares. A new study in mongabay.com's open-access journal Tropical Conservation Science finds that the bloodied nature of the Atlantic Forest impacts its capacity to sequester carbon. The study found that 92 percent of the forest stored only half its potential carbon due to fragmentation and edge-effects, which includes damage due to winds and exposure to drought.
Loving the tapir: pioneering conservation for South America's biggest animal
(09/11/2011) Compared to some of South America's megafauna stand-out species—the jaguar, the anaconda, and the harpy eagle come to mind—the tapir doesn't get a lot of love. This is a shame. For one thing, they're the largest terrestrial animal on the South American continent: pound-for-pound they beat both the jaguar and the llama. For another they play a very significant role in their ecosystem: they disperse seeds, modify habitats, and are periodic prey to big predators. For another, modern tapirs are some of the last survivors of a megafauna family that roamed much of the northern hemisphere, including North America, and only declined during the Pleistocene extinction. Finally, for anyone fortunate enough to have witnessed the often-shy tapir in the wild, one knows there is something mystical and ancient about these admittedly strange-looking beasts.
FACTS ON BRAZIL'S ATLANTIC FOREST
Human Population: Approximately 126 million people live in southeastern Brazil alone.
Countries: Mostly Brazil, but regions of Paraguay and Argentina, and a small area in Uruguay
Biodiversity: 264 mammals, 1,000 species of birds, over 750 species of reptiles and amphibians, 23,000 species of plants
Percent Forest Cover: Less than 7 percent of original biome extent, much of the area in small, degraded patches: 80 percent of the remaining ecosystem exits in fragments of less than half a square kilometer.
Deforestation Rate: Between 2000 and 2008, 277,763 hectares (2,777 square kilometers) of forest was lost. An average of 34,720 hectares (347 square kilometers) a year, or 0.35 percent loss annually.
Causes of Deforestation: Agriculture (primarily sugar cane and coffee), urban sprawl, cattle ranching, eucalyptus plantations.
OVERVIEW: BRAZIL'S ATLANTIC FOREST
No large tropical forest ecosystem has suffered so much loss as Mata Atlântica, also known as the Atlantic Forest. Encompassing a variety of tropical forest habitats—from dry forests to moist forests to coastal mangroves—the Mata Atlântica once stretched up-and-down Brazil's coastline, and covered parts of Paraguay, Uruguay, and Argentina. Today, it survives largely in small degraded patches and protected areas.
Historically, the Mata Atlântica made up over a 1.2 million square kilometers (about a quarter of the size of the Amazon), but after centuries of deforestation for timber, sugar cane, coffee, cattle ranching, and urban sprawl the Mata Atlântica has declined by well over 90 percent: today less than 100,000 square kilometers of the forest remains.
Although nearly adjacent to the Amazon rainforest, the Mata Atlântica has always been isolated from its larger and more famous neighbor. It is, in fact, more ancient than the Amazon. Being cut off from other tropical forests has allowed the Mata Atlântica to evolve unique ecosystems, which harbor a large number of species found no-where else on Earth.
Although very little remains, the Mata Atlântica is no-less threatened: logging for tropical woods, urban and rural sprawl, deforestation for agriculture and biofuels, charcoal collection, clearing for cattle ranching, hunting and poaching, and the simple isolation and small size of many of the forest fragments have placed the Mata Atlantic in truly a state of crisis.
In recent decades conservation organizations and governments have begun to recognize both the importance of and the heavy losses already incurred by the Mata Atlântica. A number of ambitious projects are underway, including reforesting large parts of the land, but there has yet to be a turning point in degradation. To date, every year a little more of the Mata Atlântica vanishes.
Mata Atlântica in Rio de Janeiro
While most of the Mata Atlântica lines the eastern coast of Brazil, the forest complex also extends to three other countries Paraguay, Uruguay, and Argentina.
The Mata Atlântica is present in 13 of Brazil's 26 states, spreading into the interior from fifty to several hundred kilometers and rising as high as 2,000 meters. It spreads far into eastern Paraguay, covers apart of northeastern Argentina, and just touches the Uruguay coast.
Two of the world's largest cities, Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, were both built over the Mata Atlântica. Increased urban and rural sprawl has cut into remaining pockets of forest.
Despite so little forest surviving, the Mata Atlântica remains remarkably rich in biodiversity and endemic species, many of them threatened with extinction.
In terms of flora researchers have cataloged over 23,000 plants, 40 percent of which are endemic to the Mata Atlântica. The area is especially rich in unique tree species—about half of which are endemic. A survey of a single hectare in Bahia found 450 tree species.
New species continue to be found in the Mata Atlântica, in fact between 1990 and 2006 over a thousand new flowering plants were discovered The area has even yielded new primate species. In 1990 researchers discovered a new tamarin: the black-faced lion tamarin (Leontopithecus caissara). In 2006 researchers rediscovered the blonde capuchin (Cebus flavius), not seen—and largely forgotten about—since the 19th Century.
Sixty percent of Brazil's endangered species are in the Mata Atlântica. Due to a number of threats and species left in small, dwindling fragments, a Brazilian conservationist, Antonio Rossano Mendes Pontes, has called species in the Mata Atlântica: 'the living dead'.
Some standouts include:
Today, the Tupi survive in small numbers in remote areas along Brazil's coastline and the country's northern highlands. Once the dominant people along Brazil's coast, the Tupi population may have numbered as many as one million when the Portuguese first arrived. But with the arrival of westerners the Tupi were decimated by disease, war, and slavery.
The Guarani are closely related to the Tupi but speak a different language. They live today in the southern lowlands of the Mata Atlântica, stretching from Brazil to Paraguay and Argentina. The Guarani language is still widely used in regions and is the second language of Paraguay. 46,000 Guarani live in Brazil today making them the largest tribe in the country, however they are threatened by the vast network of cattle ranching, sugar cane, and soy that has been established on their traditional lands.
In all over 130,000 Tupi and Guarani live in Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina.
Montane moist forests: higher altitude wet forests across mountains and plateaus of southern Brazil.
Coastal Resingas: low forests that grow on coastal dunes.
Atlantic Moist Forests: also known as 'coastal forests', they are evergreen tropical forests with four-tiered structures.
Semi-deciduous forests: inland forests where trees drop their leaves in the dry season.
Atlantic Dry Forests: one of the furthest inland, this forest is a border between the cerrado and the caatinga shrublands. Tropical climate with five dry months.
Campo rupestre: high altitude shrubby grasslands.
To date less than 7 percent of the Mata Atlântica remains, and only 3 percent of the forest that once lined the entirety of Brazil's coast survives. Forest cover is better in other countries: in Argentina 48 percent of Mata Atlântica forests survive while 13 percent of Paraguay's forests still stand. However, both countries' forests face large threats..
Destruction of the Mata Atlântica began in the 1500s when the Portuguese first arrived on Brazil's shores. Wood exportation, especially of the valuable (and now nearly vanished) Brazil wood, began immediately, as did deforestation for cattle ranching and sugar plantations.
The area became the economic heart of Brazil by the nineteenth century producing timber, coffee, beef, sugar, charcoal, and firewood. In the twentieth century eucalyptus plantations took over vast areas of forest, making Brazil a top producer of wood pulp.
In Argentina where a sizable portion of the Mata Atlântica remains, clearing for yerba mate and tobacco plantations, pulp and paper, and logging continues to take its toll. Impoverished landless peasants are also moving into the area. Paraguay's Mata Atlântica forests are suffering much the same fate.
Clearing forests for agriculture—both industrial and small-scale—remains one of the largest causes for deforestation. Big crops in the region remain coffee and sugar. Vast forests have also been cleared for cattle ranching and eucalyptus plantations. In some areas forests are still cut for timber. In Argentina clearcutting for yerba mate and tobacco are a problem.
Urban sprawl from some of the world's largest metro areas continues to destroy pockets of the Mata Atlântica. Proximity to large urban areas also poses pollution problems. Outside of urban areas, rural towns and crops are expanding as well.
For species within surviving forest fragments, hunting and poaching is a problem in some areas. Poverty is a problem in many parts of the Mata Atlântica and people, desperate both for food and fuel, are exploiting the small pockets of forest.
The size of forest pockets and the distance between them worries many ecologists, as the forests are likely victims of edge-effects. In a changing climate, small pockets of forests will have less resilency than larger stands to warmer temperatures.
Between 2005-2008, 102,938 hectares of the Mata Atlântica were destroyed, averaging 34,121 hectares per year (down slightly from an average of 34, 965 between 2000-2005). The most extensive losses occurred in the Brazilian states of Minas Gerias, Santa Catarina, and Bahia.
In Brazil there are 224 protected areas in the region, including over a 100 state and national parks. Just over 20 percent of the original Argentine Mata Atlântica is protected in some 60 areas. Paraguay's forest, however, does not have the same level of protection: less than two percent of the original area is protected in eight areas.
A few notable protected areas:
Serra dos Orgaos National Park lies just an hour outside of Rio de Janerio and spans 11,000 hectares (110 square kilometers). The park is home to endangered birds like the Vinaceous-breasted parrot (Amazona vinacea), the Large-billed Seed-Finch (Oryzoborus crassirostris) and the Black-fronted Piping Guan (Pipile jacutinga).
Poço das Antas Biological Reserve is also close to Rio de Janeria (two hours), but the reserve and adjacent private area is home to the world's only wild population of golden lion tamarins, which has become a symbol for the Mata Atlântica.
Chapada Diamantina National Park spans three major Brailian ecosystems: the Mata Atlântica, the cerrado, and the caatinga shrublands. The park is also home to Brazil's highest falls.
Iguazu National Park protects 67,000 hectares (670 square kilometers) of Argentina's Mata Atlântica region, as well as the world famous Iguazu falls. The park has 68 species of mammals, 422 birds, 38 reptiles, and 13 amphibians.
San Rafael National Park covers 70,000 hectares (700 square kilometers) of the Mata Atlântica in Paraguay. Classified an Important Bird Area (IBA) by International Birdlife, the park has little infrastructure and is considered by many to be simply 'a park on paper' with numerous impact from poaching to deforestation still on-going in the park.
One initiative was established by Brazil's President, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, in November 2008. At the time Carlos Minc, Brazil's Environment Minister, said the government aims to restore the Atlantic forest to 20 percent of its original cover, which would require reforestation on an estimated 150,000 square kilometers—more than doubling the forest cover that survives today. It's an ambitious plan, but the proof will be in implementation.
A separate program by the Nature Conservancy is working to plant one billion trees over approximately 10,000 square kilometers in the Mata Atlântica. Donors can plant a tree for every US dollar given. So far the program has planted nearly six million trees.
The project is focusing on reforesting important watersheds in the area in order to improve their water quality. Farmers are being compensated for the amount of 'clean water' they produce byway of reforestation.
The Nature Conservancy hopes to complete the project by 2015.
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