The Atlantic Forest, or Mata Atlântica, extends along the Atlantic coast of northeast Brazil, south along the coastline and inland into northeast Argentina and eastern Paraguay. Although only a small part of the original forests remain it is still one of the most diverse ecosystems on the planet.
The Atlantic Forest or Mata Atlântica (Portuguese) is a South American forest that extends along the Atlantic coast of northeast Brazil, south along the Brazilian Atlantic coastline and inland into northeast Argentina and eastern Paraguay.
Although only a 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 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 largely 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 important portions of the Atlantic Forest in 14 Brazilian states.
The Atlantic Forest has ecoregions within the following biome categories: seasonal moist and dry broad-leaf tropical forests, tropical and subtropical grasslands, savannas, and shrublands, and mangrove forests.
The Atlantic Forest region includes several variations of forests.
- Coastal restingas: low forests growing on stabilized coastal dunes.
- Coastal 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.
- Atlantic dry forests: farther inland, forming a transition between the arid Caatinga to the northeast and the Cerrado savannas to the east.
- Montane moist forests: occur in the Serra do Mar and across the mountains and plateaus of southern Brazil; are home to Araucaria and evergreen trees of the laurel (Lauraceae) and myrtle (Myrtaceae) families.
- Shrubby montane savannas: occur at the highest elevations.
Because of its isolation from the Amazon Basin by a drier region to its west, the Atlantic Forest contains many distinct plant and animal communities. 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.
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 currasow (Crax blumenbachii), seven-colored tanager (Tanagara fastuosa), blue-bellied parrot (Triclaria malachitacea), and the three-toed jacamar (Jacamaralcyon tridactyla).