The Atlantic Forest, or Mata Atlântica, runs along the coast of eastern and southeastern Brazil, stretching inland into Argentina and Paraguay. Although only a very small part of the original forests remain, it is still one of the most diverse ecosystems on the planet.
Atlantic Forest: Mata Atlântica
The Atlantic Forest, or Mata Atlântica, runs along the coast of eastern and southeastern Brazil, extending inland into northeastern Argentina (the Missionary Jungle) and east Paraguay. This natural region encompasses major cities like Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, home to more than 148 million people.
Although only a very small part of the original forests remain, from approximately 1,200,000 sq km (463,300 sq mi) originally to less than 100,000 sq km (38,600 sq mi) today, it is still one of the most diverse ecosystems on the planet, second only to the Amazon Rainforest.
The Atlantic Forest has ecoregions within the following biome categories:
seasonal moist and dry broad-leaf tropical forests
tropical and subtropical grasslands
The forest is home to around 20,000 species of plants, and new species continue to be discovered.
Encompassing a variety of tropical forest habitats, from dry forests to moist forests to coastal mangroves, the Atlantic Forest once stretched over much of Brazil's Atlantic coastline and covered parts of Paraguay, Uruguay, and Argentina. Today, it survives mainly in small degraded patches and protected areas.
UNESCO recognizes two critical portions of the Atlantic Forest as World Heritage Sites: Atlantic Forest Southeast Reserves and Discovery Coast Atlantic Forest Reserves. In addition, the Mata Atlântica Biosphere Reserve covers essential portions of the Atlantic Forest in 14 Brazilian states.
Map depicting the Atlantic Forest biome, as delineated by the WWF
The Atlantic Forest region includes several variations of forests:
Coastal Restinga forests - low forests growing on stabilized coastal dunes
Coastal moist forests - also known as Atlantic moist forests, are evergreen tropical forests with structures
Interior (inland) forests - also known as the Atlantic semi-deciduous forests, where many trees drop their leaves during the dry season
Montane moist forests - occur in the Serra do Mar and across the mountains and plateaus of southern Brazil; home to Araucaria and evergreen trees of the laurel (Lauraceae) and myrtle (Myrtaceae) families
Shrubby montane savannas - occur at the highest elevations
The Atlantic Forest contains many distinct plant and animal communities because of its isolation from the Amazon Basin by a drier region to its west. Although near the Amazon Rainforest, the Mata Atlântica has always been isolated from its more prominent and famous neighbor. It is, in fact, more ancient than the Amazon.
Being cut off from other tropical forests has allowed the Atlantic Forest to evolve unique ecosystems, which harbor many species found nowhere else on Earth.
Around 2,200 species of birds, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians live in the Atlantic Forest, including nearly 200 bird species found nowhere else.
Of the 26 species of small primates, most are only found there. These include the golden-headed lion tamarin (L. chrysomelas), black-faced lion tamarin (L. caissara), black lion tamarin (L. chrysopygus), and the highly endangered golden lion tamarin (Leontopithecus rosalia).
Other mammal species include the muriqui or woolly spider monkeys (Brachyteles arachnoides) and the maned sloth (Bradypus torquatus).
Birds include the red-necked tanager (Tangara cyanocephala), the red-billed curassow (Crax blumenbachii), the seven-colored tanager (Tanagara fastuosa), blue-bellied parrot (Triclaria malachitacea), and the three-toed jacamar (Jacamaralcyon tridactyla).
Map depicting the biomes of Brazil