So, made it to Brazil, and the first stop for a few days was deep in the Mata Atlântica.
Not as famous as the Amazon or the Pantanal, the Atlantic Forest (Mata Atlântica) is a region of forest which extends along the Atlantic coast of Brazil from Rio Grande do Norte state in the north to Rio Grande do Sul state in the south, and inland as far as Paraguay and the Misiones Province of Argentina.
The Atlantic Forest is characterised by a high species diversity and endemism. When conquered by the Portuguese the area of the Atlantic Forest was more than 1,000,000 km² (390,000 mi² Currently, the Atlantic Forest spans over 4,000 km² (1,500 mi²), a drastic reduction in just over 500 years!
The Atlantic Forest is now designated a World Biosphere Reserve, which contains a large number of highly endangered species. The enormous biodiversity of the Atlantic Forest results in part from the wide range of latitude it covers, its variations in altitude, its diverse climatic regimes as well as the geological and climatic history of the whole region. Further, the Atlantic Forest is isolated from the neighbouring Amazon and the Andean forests. This isolation has resulted in an evolution of numerous endemic species, such as lion tamarins, woolly spider monkey, and marmosets, plus …… species of endemic birds.
Despite so little forest remaining from the original 1,000,000 km² the Atlantic Forest remains extraordinarily lush, many of which are endangered. The official threatened species list of Brazil contains over 140 terrestrial mammal species found in Atlantic Forest. Nearly 250 species of amphibians, birds, and mammals have become extinct due to the result of human activity in the past 400-500 years.
New species are continually being found in the Atlantic Forest, between 1990 and 2006 over a thousand new flowering plants were discovered, and in 1990 researchers re-discovered a small population of the black-faced lion tamarin, previously thought to have been extinct. A new species of blonde capuchin monkey was discovered in northeastern Brazil in 2006.
Unfortunately, the Atlantic Forest has been facing human-induced threats for decades. Around 70% of Brazil’s population live along the Atlantic coastline. The incorporation of modern human society continues to put pressure on the remaining forest, through agriculture and farming, hunting and trapping, logging and fire.
Habitat fragmentation has led to a cascade of alterations of the original forest landscape. The endemic species in this region are especially vulnerable to extinction due to fragmentation because of their small geographic rages and low occurrence. Key ecological processes such as seed dispersal, gene flow and colonisation are disturbed by fragmentation. With many key vertebrate seed dispersers going extinct, it is predicted that many regional, fruit-bearing tree species in the Atlantic Forest will become extinct due to failure of seedling recruitment and recolonisation. With so many species already threatened, it is predicted that with the persistence of current deforestation rates the Atlantic Forest will see continued extinction of species.