The Atlantic RainforestÂ
The Atlantic Forest is one of the most threatened rainforests in the world.
It used to stretch all along the Brazilian coast occupying an area of about 1.1 million square kilometers. Covering such a large area it is composed of a number of sub-ecosystems: tableland rainforest (Bahia), subtropical forest (interior of SÃ£o Paulo, Parana), lowland forest, slope forest, cloud forest and high altitude plains.
One can also find marshes, mangroves, restingas and beaches, where the forest meets the sea The forest overwhelmed visitors like the 16th century discoverer Americo Vespucci and scientist Charles Darwin with its spectacular natural beauty and biological richness. But five centuries of colonization have taken their toll and little - less than 10% - of this great forest remains. One can only guess how many species have disappeared because of the clearing of the land for timber, plantations, pastures and human settlements.
Yet, even today, the still impressive remnants of forest attest to its past glory and some still rival the Amazon in biological diversity and surpass it in beauty. As the remaining forest is mostly located on slopes and mountains, more light penetrates to the different forest strata and many trees are dripping with epiphytes. The enormous variety of orchids and bromeliads is typical for well preserved Atlantic Forest. Half of the trees species and two-thirds of the bromeliad and palm species are endemic, they are only found in this ecosystem.
There are more than 800 bird species recorded for the Atlantic Forest, ranging from the very rare majestic Harpy Eagle to the tiny Reddish Hermit (a 8 cm hummingbird). Colourful groups of tanagers fly from tree to tree looking for edible fruits. Woodcreepers and antbirds search trunks and branches for insects and the sad whistle of the black-and-cotinga sounds through the cloud forest.
The mammal list for the Atlantic Forest has over 150 species, but many are nocturnal and shy. More than a third of critically endangered mammals in Brazil are endemic to this unique ecosystem. Prominent amongst these are the highly threatened lion tamarins and South Americaâ€™s largest monkey, the "muriqui" or woolly spider monkey. The Atlantic forest is also rich in reptiles, amphibians and butterflies.
Most of the forest cover in the states North of Salvador is gone. The states of Rio, SÃ£o Paulo and ParanÃ¡ have the most remaining forest thanks, in part, to the inaccessibility of some of these areas. In Southern Bahia, shade-living cocoa has helped some impressive stands survive, as only the undergrowth is cleared for making the plantations.
Many conservation groups are working to protect the remaining forest and - importantly - promoting the creation of ecological corridors, which are essential for the survival of endemic species, which have become isolated in small patches of forest.
For the visitor the Atlantic Rainforest offers spectacular mountain scenery (some of the highest mountains of Brazil are found in its domain), exuberant forest full of hidden treasures like bridal veil waterfalls, a delicate orchid or the beautiful golden lion tamarin monkey.
There are many nice properties to stay from where you can venture out into the rainforest. Birdwatchers will discover an enormous variety of birds, including endangered endemics. And for the adventurous, there are a myriad of activities like trekking, mountain-biking, rappel and canyoning, rafting and canoeing and horseback riding.
Atlantic Rainforest in Figures (2002)
Approximate original area: 1.100.000 sq km
Average Annual Rainfall: 1500 - 3000 mm
Average Annual Temperature: 14 - 21ÂºC
Fish species: 185
Vascular Plants: 10.000 (44% endemics)