Life involves Earth with its diversity and exuberance. It can be found from the iced poles to the heat of tropical forests, filling out land, water and air with millions species of animals, plants, fungi and microorganisms. However, the global biodiversity is at risk due to the human pressure. In the Anthropocene, we became the most dangerous species on the planet. The Atlantic Forest is an example of this.

Panoramic view of the Atlantic Forest in Saco Bravo, Paraty (2014-12-30) by Henrique Ferreira (CC BY 2.0)Museu do Amanhã


The Atlantic Forest is a rainforest biome. The incidence of light, temperature and availability of water, rainfall regime and soil composition form dense ecosystems in these forests where a large part of the planet biodiversity is concentrated, including half of species of existing fauna and flora. Present in Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina, the Atlantic Forest has 163 thousand km², a little more than 12% of its original extension, fragmented and degraded by human action. It remains a precious life treasure formed by different types of ecosystems; also river basins, rivers and aquifers are located in the Atlantic Forest.

Rain forest, vegetation of the Atlantic Forest by Cristian DimitriusMuseu do Amanhã

The Atlantic Forest is formed by dense forests with rains all year around and seasonal forests with one rainy and one dry season. When they occur in high altitudes with low temperatures they are deciduous seasonal ones, but when they make transition from wet areas to dry areas they are semi-deciduous ones.

'Campos de Altitude', an ecosystem of the Atlantic Forest by Cristian DimitriusMuseu do Amanhã

The altitude fields of the Atlantic Forest are located on the peaks of the mountains of the Serra do Mar which goes from Rio de Janeiro to the North of Santa Catarina, and Serra da Mantiqueira, also in the State of Rio de Janeiro in addition to São Paulo and Minas Gerais; its vegetation contain gramineous plants and other herbs in addition to shrubs and small trees.

Mangrove, an ecosystem of the Atlantic Forest by Cristian DimitriusMuseu do Amanhã

Marshes and swamp areas occur in the coastline soils unstable by the constant deposition of sea and river sands also quite influenced by salinity. Due to its large biological production these ecosystems are economically important to the traditional communities such as the caiçaras (coast areas inhabitants) who fish many species of fishes and crustaceans that reproduce in these sites.

Restinga, an ecosystem of the Atlantic Forest by Cristian DimitriusMuseu do Amanhã

Salt marshes or sandbanks are Atlantic Forest ecosystems occurring in the shore region being one of the most endangered areas; more than 90% of its original vegetation has already been altered by human action, even if there has already been asserted that there is large number of species existing only in this ecosystem. In Rio de Janeiro, for example, up to 204 species of vascular plants are endemic.

Blue-and-yellow macaw by Deni Williams (CC BY 2.0)Museu do Amanhã


Besides us, thousands of species live in the Atlantic Forest; among the most well-known are 20 thousand species of plants with 8 thousand being endemic, that is, they live in this biome only; 298 species of mammals, 200 species of reptiles, 370 of amphibians, 350 of fishes, 992 of birds in addition to insects and other invertebrate animals. Its flora is also exuberant with estimates of 16 thousand species; the Atlantic Forest covers less than 1% of the planet land surface, but it is the home of more than 5% of vertebrate species and 5% of the world flora; but many species living therein are at risk: out of the 633 species of endangered animals in Brazil 383 live in the Atlantic Forest.

Golden lion tamarin (Leontopithecus rosalia) by Carlos Henrique (CC BY-ND 2.0)Museu do Amanhã

The golden-lion tamarin (Leontopithecus rosalia) or golden marmoset is a primate species occurring in the Brazilian Atlantic Forest only in the State of Rio de Janeiro. Deforestation, fragmentation of the habitat and wildlife traffic almost led to their extinction; today the major risks these animals are exposed to are illegal trade, advance of farming and modifications in the environment.

Jaguar by Daniel Garcia Neto (CC BY 2.0)Museu do Amanhã

The spotted jaguar (Panthera onca)- onça pintada - is a carnivore mammal of the Felidae family found in the Americas being the third largest feline in the world, after tigers and lions and the largest in the American continent. In Brazil the jaguar lives in the Atlantic Forest, the Amazon, the Pantanal, Cerrado and Caatinga; among the main hazards faced by this animal are illegal trade, expansion of farming and modifications of ecosystems.

Quati (Nasua nasua) by Raíssa Ruschel (CC BY 2.0)Museu do Amanhã

The coati (Nasua nasua) is also called band coati or ring-tailed coati. It is a mammal predominantly found in the southern part of the Central America, South America including the Atlantic Forest. Among the major hazards faced by the species are deforestation, fragmentation of the habitat, expansion of farming and use in biological research.

Redwood (Caesalpinia echinata) by Mauro Guanandi (CC BY 2.0)Museu do Amanhã

The redwood (Caesalpinia echinata), also known as Arabutã, ibirapiranga, Ibirapita, ibirapitanga and Orabutã, is an endemic tree on the Atlantic Forest. Explored since the 15th century for international trade, the redwood has become a symbol of deforestation in the country and the predatory extraction of the resources of the rainforest.

Indigenous Guaraní by MinC/Oliver Kornblihtt (CC BY 2.0)Museu do Amanhã

Most of the Brazilian population lives in the Atlantic Forest although in the deforested territory for construction of cities. But the forests also shelter a large cultural diversity formed during centuries. This is the case of indigenous peoples, caiçaras and quilombolas. Unfortunately, many of these people were expelled from its original territories.

Tié-sangue by Cristian DimitriusMuseu do Amanhã


The high rates of species extinctions indicate that the global diversity is endangered. The organization International Conservation keeps a list of the planet regions that concentrate most of the global diversity but which are endangered by human pressure – the so-called biodiversity hotspots. In total there are 35 regions including the Atlantic Forest spread out through America, Caribbean, Europe, Africa, Asia and Oceania, most of them in the tropics region. Hotspots gather 50% of global biological heritage in only 2.3% of the planet surface. More than half of species of plants and almost half of species of birds, mammals reptiles and amphibians live in these sites only; to be a hotspot the region should have 30% or less of its original vegetation although sheltering at least 1.500 species of plants that live in these environments only. In Brazil the Cerrado is also part of this list of irreplaceable and endangered sites.

Deforestation. by Ana Cotta (CC BY 2.0)Museu do Amanhã


If, in the past, large extinctions occurred due to natural events, in the last centuries the decrease of biodiversity is caused by human action. Unlike the meteor that collided with the Earth and extinguished the dinosaurs our impact is daily: we degrade habitats, pollute, exhaust natural resources and change the planet temperature. The decrease of the global biodiversity started intensifying with the extensive navigations and the trade expansion in the 15th century when indiscriminate hunting, deforestation and introduction of invasive plants and animals caused the disappearance of many species. Since then the biodiversity remained under pressure resulting in the species extinction rate caused by us, humans, to become thousand times higher than that caused by nature itself in our times.

Redwood (Caesalpinia echinata) by Marcia Coimbra (CC BY-NC 2.0)Museu do Amanhã


In the 15th century the Europeans with their great navigations discovered America and its rainforest paths; but the Atlantic Forest was already occupied by humans more than 10 thousand years ago. Originally the Forest would cover an area equivalent to 1.315.460 km2 – an extension larger than many countries, for instance France and Spain – spreading out from north to south of the Country, predominantly on the coastline, although it would also advance on the continent inland. But the arrival of Europeans started the transformation of the landscape with exploration of the forest for economic purposes and construction of the first hamlets similar to European cities. First came the extraction of pau-brasil which dyeing essence extracted from the wood was used for dye of fabrics and production of paints serving the European trade. Then other economic cycles such as sugarcane, coffee and gold continued with deforestation for centuries on end by degrading the habitat of thousands of species.

Detail of a cut tree. by Lauria Jacques (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)Museu do Amanhã


In the 20th century the Atlantic Forest had the highest rates of deforestation accompanying the increase of urbanization, industrialization and the population itself which led to the increase of exploitation of natural resources. Energy demands also increased and thus the deforestation of the forest remains continued in the middle of the twentieth century with the construction of power plants that required the cutting of trees around the plant and flooding of huge extensions of forest. In the turning of the millennium the assaults to the Atlantic Forest continued also by the expansion of the agribusiness frontiers which occupied large extensions of land for mining, cattle-raising, farming including monocultures for exportation.

Trunks of trees cut and stacked. by Wagner T. Cassimiro (CC BY 2.0)Museu do Amanhã


The data on the deforestation of Atlantic Forest were announced by the Foundation SOS Mata Atlântica and INPE – National Institute of Spatial Research; the study points out to a deforestation of 184 km² over the biome in 2014 and 2015, including a 1.69 km2 deforestation arising out of the breach of the Fundão mining waste dam in the city of Mariana, Minas Gerais, which caused a huge environmental disaster in the Doce River. Between 2010 and 2015 the annual rate varied between 140 km2 and 240 km2; it was much worse before. Between 1985 and 1995 this rate was above 1.000 km2; from 1995 to 2005 it dropped from 891 km2 to 349 km2, and in 2010 was above 151 km2. Adding all that deforestation reached more than 4.769 km2 in the last three decades; but the result from little more of five hundred years of deforestation is that the Atlantic Forest which originally occupied large part of the territory is now fragmented and reduced to the Serra do Mar scarps and slopes.

Panoramic view from Rio de Janeiro by John Skodak (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)Museu do Amanhã


The original vegetation was replaced by cities, farming fields and factories; spread out in 17 out of the 26 States which many times we do not realize is that large part of Brazilians live in the Atlantic Forest or in what was left of it. More precisely, out of more than 200 million Brazilians there are 145 million distributed in 3.429 cities according to the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics; among all these cities are the two largest Brazilian cities: São Paulo has more than 11 million inhabitants and a total area of more than 1.500 km2; out of it little more than 267 km2 are Atlantic Forest representing 17% of the city. Now Rio de Janeiro has more than 6 million inhabitants and an area of more than 1.100 km2, out of which 184 km2 are Atlantic Forest something around 15.51% of the city. There was forest in the past where we see high rises and busy avenues today.

Water flow in the Atlantic Forest by Cristian DimitriusMuseu do Amanhã


The Atlantic Forest offers essential resources to the Brazilians life; among them are the help in the climate regulation, the water springs, soil fertility in addition to the purification of air. The Forest also contributes to the protection of soil, rivers and springs, providing the water supply in the cities; the estimate is that 100 million Brazilians benefit from the Atlantic Forest water resources. Additionally the forest is also important to the economy – when not predatory – including fishing, extractive activities, power generation and tourism.

Insect on a leaf by Cristian DimitriMuseu do Amanhã


The coverage of protected areas in the Atlantic Forest has advanced in the last years; there are now 131 Federal Conservation Units, 443 State Conservation, 14 Municipal and 124 Private Conservation Units which are distributed in 16 out of 17 States where the Forest exists. But the addition of these units protects only a small portion of the biome; thus it is necessary to increase the protection, seeking strategies for the conservation of biodiversity and also find a sustainable solution of use of the Atlantic Forest natural resources and recovery of ecosystems. These are challenges in which all of us should participate for the sake of the planet’s life biodiversity.

National Park of Iguaçú by Denni Williams (CC BY 2.0)Museu do Amanhã

National parks conserve the Atlantic Forest, allowing the preservation of ecosystems and their sustainable use, such as for ecotourism. Altogether, there are 24 national parks in the Atlantic Forest. One of the most famous is the Iguaçu National Park, in the state of Paraná, which has one of the most spectacular sets of Earth falls, the Iguaçu Falls. This park preserves one of the largest stretches of the original vegetation of the Atlantic Forest and saves biodiversity of fauna and flora, and, in addition, water resources. Other famous national parks are in the Chapada Diamantina, Serra do Caparaó, Serra dos Órgãos, and Floresta da Tijuca.

Credits: Story

Chairman of IDG's Board of Directors: Fred Arruda
CEO: Ricardo Piquet
Chief Curator: Luiz Alberto Oliveira
Director of Content: Alfredo Tolmasquim
Director of Operations & Finance: Henrique Oliveira
Director of Public Development: Alexandre Fernandes
Director of Planning & Management: Vinicius Capillé
Director of Funding: Renata Salles
Exhibitions & Observatory of Tomorrow Manager: Leonardo Menezes
Research and Writing: Davi Bonela
Editing text: Emanuel Alencar
Photos: Cristian Dimittri e images under creative commons

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
Explore more
Google apps