Biodiversity Hotspots of the World (1 of 36): The Atlantic Forest of South America

Home to 35% of the South American population, the Atlantic Forest is one of the most fragmented tropical/subtropical forests in the world, which may well represent the present or future of other tropical forests worldwide.”

— Renato A. F. de LimaDepartamento de Ecologia, Universidade de São Paulo

When we hear the word “forest” in South America, the first place that usually comes to mind is the Amazon. Many people have never heard of the biodiversity hotspot that is the topic of today’s post: the Atlantic Forest. This is surprising, given that the biodiversity of the Atlantic Forest is on par with the Amazon.

Map of the Atlantic Forest Biodiversity Hotspot, from the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF)

The Atlantic Forest extends 656,374 square miles along the eastern coast of Brazil and inland through parts of Argentina and Paraguay. With elevations that range from sea level to over 5,900 feet, the Atlantic Forest boasts a wide variety of habitat types, including mangrove forests, restinga (a type of moist broadleaf forest found in sandy soils), deciduous and semi-deciduous forests, Araucaria forest (a type of evergreen subtropical moist forest), and high-altitude grasslands.

With such a diverse landscape, it’s not surprising to learn that the Atlantic Forest supports a wide variety of wildlife and plants. An estimated 7% of the world’s plant species and 5% of the world’s vertebrate species are found in the Atlantic Forest, which includes many species that are not found anywhere else. It is home to over 250 mammal species (55 endemic), 340 amphibian species (90 endemic), over 1000 species of birds (188 endemic), and approximately 20,000 species of plants (half are endemic). In the past 30 years, scientists have discovered 9 new species of birds, 30 new species of mammals, and ~100 new species of frogs.

The Atlantic Forest is home to a famous tree called the pau brasil (Caesalpinia echinata) or Brazilwood. Portuguese traders valued the pau brasil as a source of reddish colored dye. These traders called the area the “Land of Brasil”, which was the origin of the country name of Brazil. The forest is also home to many charismatic animals such as jaguars, sloths, toucans, and tamarins.

Golden Lion Tamarin (Leontopithecus rosalia)

Conservation Status

The Atlantic Forest is one of the most threatened forests in the world. The region is home to over 148 million people, including the cities of Sao Paulo, Porto Alegre, and Rio de Janeiro. The region generates an estimated 70% of Brazil’s gross domestic product. Infrastructure development, agriculture, and tree plantations have taken a major toll on the area. Less than 12% of the original forest remains, much of it in small and unconnected fragments.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. Given the amazing diversity of wildlife and plants, the Atlantic Forest receives a lot of attention from non-government organizations, governments, and the private sector. Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay have increased the total protected forest area by more than 20%, thanks to efforts to protect the existing forest and recover lost areas of the forest.

With elevations ranging from sea level to over 5,900 feet, the Atlantic Forest supports a spectacular variety of plant and animal species.

Travel and Tourism

Given its proximity to large cities, ecotourism opportunities abound in the Atlantic Forest.

In Brazil, the Atlantic Forest South-East Reserves located in the Brazilian states of Paraná and São Paulo offer some of the best examples of Atlantic Forest habitat. The Atlantic Forest South-East Reserves are a UNESCO World Heritage Site that includes over 1.1 million acres spread across 25 protected areas.

In Paraguay, two of the most important areas of remaining Atlantic Forest can be found in Mbaracayú Forest Nature Reserve and San Rafael Lagoon (a proposed National Park).

In Argentina, the northern province of Misiones has the has the world’s largest continuous area of Atlantic Forest, and most of it is formally protected as national and provincial parks such as Iguazu National Park, Urugua-í Provincial Park, and Cruce Caballero Provincial Park.

The amazing Iguazu falls on the border of Argentina and Brazil

Coming Attractions

I hope you enjoyed this brief overview of the Atlantic Forest biodiversity hotspot! For our next post, we’ll be heading to the western United States for an overview of the California Floristic Province biodiversity hotspot.

Thanks for reading!

Mark

Disney and Biodiversity Conservation (Part 2 of 2): Nature-Based Climate Solutions

May 11, 2020 by MARK ASPELIN

“Landscapes of great wonder and beauty lie under our feet and all around us. They are discovered in tunnels in the ground, the heart of flowers, the hollows of trees, fresh-water ponds, seaweed jungles between tides, and even drops of water. Life in these hidden worlds is more startling in reality than anything we can imagine. How could this earth of ours, which is only a speck in the heavens, have so much variety of life, so many curious and exciting creatures?”

—Walt Disney (1901-1966)

To continue our look at Disney’s wildlife and biodiversity conservation efforts, today we’ll focus on the company’s “Natural Climate Solutions” strategy. Natural climate solutions refers to the protection of natural areas, such as forests, that provide food, shelter, and income for local communities, provide habitat for wildlife, and reduce the impact of climate change.

These natural climate solutions are part of a three-pronged strategy that the company is using to achieve its greenhouse gas emission reduction goals. This year (2020), Disney’s emission reduction goal is to reduce its net emissions by 50% compared to a 2012 baseline. The first two strategies that Disney pursues include efforts to reduce the use of fuels and to look for lower carbon alternatives. Disney then uses carbon offsets to go the rest of the way to accomplish its goals. These carbon offsets come in the form of forest offsets, with the reasoning that if we can slow the rate of deforestation then we reduce the amount of carbon emissions into the air.

To execute this strategy, Disney invests in scalable, science-based projects that use peer-reviewed protocols and result in verified reductions of emissions. Over the past decade, Disney has invested in 25 projects around the world that meet these criteria. Let’s take a look a one of these projects to better illustrate Disney’s natural climate solutions approach.

Alto Mayo Protected Forest

Disney has provided funding to Conservation International to implement a REDD+ project in nothern Peru. REDD+ is an acronym that stands for a mouthful of words that I can never seem to remember: Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation ‘plus’ conservation, the sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks. The project in the San Martin region of northern Peru is called the Alto Mayo Protected Forest (AMPF) project, which has been up and running for nearly a decade.

Alto Mayo Protected Forest is located in the San Martin region of northern Peru

The Alto Mayo Protected Forest project includes 450,000 acres of the Peruvian Amazon, and was designed up front with the goal of supporting both wildlife conservation and the local community.

There are significant deforestation pressures in the AMPF from illegal logging and unsustainable agricultural practices. As a result, the funds from Disney are used to support conservation agreements where the local residents agree not to destroy the forest in exchange for benefits such as technical assistance to improve crop yields, access to medicine, and support to improve school attendance. This approach reduces the community’s reliance on the forest as an economic resource while building local capacity for improved management of the AMPF.

Deforestation in the Alto Mayo Protected Forest

Since 2008, the Alto Mayo Protected Forest project has resulted in conservation agreements and benefits for 235 families, while reducing carbon emissions by over 6.2 million tons, which is equivalent to taking more than 150,000 cars off the road each year. Other benefits from the project include habitat conservation for wildlife as well as improved management of freshwater resources. The forest regulates freshwater sources in the region by acting as a natural filter for more than 240,000 people and the runoff from the forest replenishes local streams and provides irrigation to crops and water to the community.

Farmers have received training on sustainable farming methods and, as a result, have tripled their production yield. They have also seen an improvement in the quality of their products and have started earning more money from their premium, fair-trade, organic coffee, which Disney serves in some of its restaurants.

Deforestation in the areas has declined by 75% since 2008, which is good news for many of the region’s unique species, such as the critically endangered yellow-tailed woolly monkey.

Yellow-tailed woolly monkey (image from Wiley Online Library)

By funding natural climate solutions projects, Disney has contributed to planting over 9 million trees and protecting over 1 million acres of forest, while enabling the company to make good progress towards its greenhouse gas emissions goal. These natural climate solutions projects are good examples of how corporations can make strategic investments that support local communities through economic development and employment, while also protecting wildlife and conserving biodiversity and helping the organization meet its own goals.

Thanks for reading!

Mark

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