Restoring South America’s Atlantic forests

Geographical location:

Latin America/Caribbean > South America > Argentina

Latin America/Caribbean > South America > Brazil
Latin America/Caribbean > South America > Paraguay

Iguacu river flowing through rainforest, Iguacu National Park, Misiones. Argentina.
© WWF-Canon / James FRANKHAM

Summary

The Upper Paraná Atlantic Forest stretches across the borders of Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina. The rainforests are among the most biologically-rich regions in the world, home to jaguars and tamarins; but it is also one of the most endangered. Today only 7% of the original forest cover remains in Brazil, all of it fragmented by centuries of unsustainable use and logging.

WWF has a number of restoration projects in the region aimed at returning native forest where it has previously been destroyed or degraded. It is also working on establishing new protected areas and creating “green corridors” to connect isolated tracts of forests.

Background

The Atlantic Forest ecoregion once stretched over 1 million km2 along Brazil's coast in 13 states, with extensions inland into Eastern Paraguay and the Misiones province in Northeastern Argentina. The ecoregion contains 2 types of tropical moist broadleaf forests, the coastal and interior Atlantic Forests, and the Araucaria Pine Forest which previously covered a large portion of the Brazilian states of Parana and Santa Catarina and their borders with Argentina.

The coastal and interior Atlantic Forests are some of the richest tropical moist forests on Earth, harboring unique collections of species quite distinct from the Amazon. A 1993 survey identified 450 different tree species within one hectare of Atlantic Forests in the Southern Bahia state - one of the highest diversities of tree species reported in the world.

Significant numbers of the animals and plants occur only in the Atlantic Forests ecoregion, long isolated from the Amazon basin by the drier Cerrado. Over 52% of the tree species and 92% of the amphibians in the Atlantic Forests are found nowhere else in the world.

The ecoregion is also an important centre for bird endemism (at least 158 endemic species), palms, bromeliads, and orchids. Of Brazil's 77 primate species (more than any other country in the world), 17 species and 6 genera are endemic to the Atlantic Forests. Many species occur only in limited areas within the ecoregion. For example, each of the 4 endangered species of lion tamarins occurs only in a different small area of the Atlantic Forests.

This part of Brazil has developed into the agricultural, industrial and population center of the country. The cities of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo both lie within the forests. Today only 7% of the original Atlantic Forests cover remains in Brazil, all of it fragmented by centuries of unsustainable use. This fragmentation, coupled with high endemism, makes the Atlantic Forests one of the most endangered rainforests in the world.

Those species whose habitat is restricted to a small part of the forests are especially threatened. With forest fragmentation species populations are sub-divided and reduced to precariously low numbers of individuals. The probability of long-term survival of small isolated populations is very low; thus nearly all these endemic species can be considered endangered, with several on the verge of extinction.

Objectives

1. Increase WWF institutional presence in the Atlantic Forests, building credibility to act in the region in partnership with government and other NGOs.

2. Carry out specific activities which make information available that can serve as a basis for ecoregional conservation planning.

3. Contribute to the development of an ecoregional conservation plan, with an emphasis on establishment and effective implementation of protected areas.

4. Promote the establishment of new protected areas.

5. Contribute to the effective implementation of protected areas.

Solution

To ensure stable ecosystems and biological processes as well as to preserve viable populations of key endemic species in the long-term, all forest fragments must be preserved, prioritizing action according to forest type, biodiversity, local endemism, size and biological integrity of the forest.

In addition, these fragments must be strategically linked with forest corridors, which in some cases imply forest rehabilitation.