One of the world’s top five biodiversity hotspots, the Atlantic Forest is a place of extraordinary beauty and a treasure house of biodiversity. Tragically, much of its immense variety of flora and fauna is severely endangered by habitat loss, and the Woolly Spíder Monkey, symbol of the forest, is the most severely threatened of all.
Different from the better known Amazon Forest, the Atlantic Forest, although also a rainforest with an average rainfall of 2000 mm pa, is not so hot as the Amazon, with average temperatures that vary from 14 – 21 C. This contributes to the enormous variety of plants and animals that the forest shelters.
The Atlantic Forest lies between the states of Rio Grande do Norte and Rio Grande do Sul stretching from the coast to the inland mountains. The vegetation of the forest varies in accordance with the latitude and altitude, with a resulting variety of forest biomes which include:
Humid tropical forest. Found in the region of coastal plains, distinguished by dense high forest, with a sparse layer of smaller trees, shrubs and palms and a large number of lianas and epiphytes. Little of the original forest remains.
Semi-deciduous Tropical forest. Found on the inland plateaus and in the mountains of São Paulo, Paraná and Minas Gerais. In the northeastern region, the forest is characterized by transition of moist swampland forest to dry land low forest. In the south of Brazil this forest is scattered with araucaria species. The forest canopy averages more than 30 m, with a secondary layer of forest of around 20 m in height.
Low Montane Forest. Found at altitudes above 800 m above sea level. The average height of the trees ranges from 12- 25 m, with a greater density of smaller trees and a high rate of biodiversity. Above 1200 m in altitude the forest yields to alpine vegetation and cloud forest.
Mangrove Swamps Found along estuaries in the inter-tropical latitudes, where sediment has been deposited in estuaries and sea bays, they are subject to the influence of salt water.
The forests surrounding the Iracambi Research Center are located between 800-1300 m, and are classified as Seasonal Semi-deciduous Forest.
The Atlantic Forest contains an even richer variety of habitat for flora and fauna than the Amazon Forest, with the world´s largest diversity of woody plants per hectare (458 species) found in the Atlantic Forest. While in the whole of North America approximately 810 bird species have been registered, the state of Minas Gerais – with an area slightly smaller than the state of Texas – contains 750 species. In the forests around Iracambi the list, still incomplete, has already reached 260 species.