Atlantic Forests | WWF

Atlantic Forests

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Situated on the Brazilian-Argentinian border, the Iguaçu Falls in the Atlantic Forest are listed as a UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site.
© Michel GUNTHER / WWF

About the area

Long isolated from the Amazon Basin by the drier Cerrado region to its west, the Atlantic Forest ecoregion fostered the evolution of many distinctive plant and animal communities. Some 92% of the forests amphibians are found nowhere else on Earth.

Many of these endemic organisms now persist in mere islands of forest, all that are left after centuries of clearing for agriculture and urban development. In fact, of the more than 1,000,000 sq km (386,000 sq miles) of original Atlantic Forest that once blanketed the coast of Brazil, just 7% now remains.

1,234,000 sq. km (476,000 sq. miles)

Habitat type:
Tropical and Subtropical Moist Broadleaf Forests

Geographic Location:
Southeastern coast of South America: Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay

Conservation Status:

Local species

There are 4 species of the small primates lion tamarin which inhabit the trees, including 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) - slow-moving animals with long black plumes on their neck and shoulders. Birds include red-necked tanager (Tangara cyanocephala), and many endemics such as the red-billed currasow (Crax blumenbachii), seven-colored tanager (Tanagara fastuosa), blue-bellied parrot (Triclaria malachitacea), and the three-toed jacamar (Jacamaralcyon tridactyla).

Featured Species

Golden lion tamarin (Leontopithecus rosalia), Poço das Antas Biological Reserve, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

The golden lion tamarin (Leontopithecus rosalia) has a dark grey face which is surrounded by a thick mane of golden hair which cascades down its back like a lion’s mane. It weighs around 400-800 g (14-29 oz) and is 20-25 cm long. The hands, fingers and claws are long and thin to probe into bark for grubs. It is an omnivore, although most of its diet consists of fruit.

The golden lion tamarin is diurnal and primarily arboreal, forming small groups of up to 14 individuals, led by a breeding pair.

Once listed as critically endangered by IUCN, the status of the golden lion tamarin is now considered endangered. With its survival threatened by devastating forest clearance, WWF and others have worked to set up new protected areas and supported the release into the wild of animals bred in zoos. The golden lion tamarin’s attractive appearance makes it vulnerable to the further threat from the illegal pet trade.


Two of the world's largest cities - Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, lie within the Atlantic Forests ecoregion, indicating the challenge of conserving the remaining habitat in the area. In a recent study, just 2.5 acres (one hectare) of the forest were found to have 450 different species of trees! Protecting this diversity, while meeting the needs of growing metropolitan and rural populations, is a serious challenge.

Logging, agricultural expansion, and associated road building threaten this globally important region of biological diversity. Habitat loss, hunting, and the wildlife trade threaten many species.

Given the high levels of local richness and endemism and the extensive loss of natural habitat, over 95% in many areas, the probability of species extinctions is high without intensive conservation efforts. Relatively extensive, but generally unprotected blocks of forest remain in the southern portion of the ecoregion, particularly in Argentina and Paraguay.

	© Michel GUNTHER / WWF
Dead trees drowned by Itaipu lake created by the Itaipu dam in the Atlantic rainforest. Brazil - Paraguay
© Michel GUNTHER / WWF

Where is the Atlantic Forest ecoregion?

The Atlantic Forest ecoregion is highlighted in orange.

View WWF Critical Regions of the World in a larger map

WWF's work

The goal of WWF’s Atlantic forests conservation project is to develop and implement an overall ecoregion conservation strategy for Brazil's Atlantic Forests. In the short-term, it will focus on 3 new initiatives. The first is a process of consultation with, and coordination of, government and non-government conservation organizations in the tri-national Missiones region.

The second is a mapping exercise that will document forest cover changes from 1985 to 1990, and then to 1995 in the entire ecoregion. This will start with the Brazilian area, moving on to integrate the tri-national effort. Finally, it will use the experience of decades of site-specific work throughout the ecoregion and use it as the basis of technical assistance to protected area projects throughout the region.

These initial efforts will establish a greater WWF presence in the ecoregion, and build WWF's credibility for a lead role in broader ecoregional planning efforts in the future.

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