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Atlantic Forest

The Atlantic Forest is the second of the most expressive forests in South America, only losing to the Amazon Forest, the largest in the planet. It is one of the richest ecosystems in the world.

Denominated the Atlantic Rain Forest, it is located in the Serra do Mar escarpment, which is part of the Atlantic Tropical Forestal Domain. This Forestal Domain extends itself for an area relatively parallel to the Brazilian coast, from Rio Grande do Norte to Rio Grande do Sul and is constituted by "seas of hills" and "chapadões" (large tablelands) covered in forest, with deep soils of perennial drainage.

The average altitude in this mountain chain is of 800 to 900 metres, with emerging peaks of around 1400 metres and escarps of up to 2000 metres. On the mountain tops there are fields of rocky outcrops and, exceptionally, over 1700 metres the forest gives place to alpine pastures.

The robust Atlantic Forest, with an arboreal vegetation of around 30 metres, and trees that surpass the canopy, reaching 40 metres of height, presents an intense shrubby vegetation on the inferior stratum. It is a forest of great diversity of vegetation with many ferns, including the arborescents, besides terrestrial orchids and palm trees, among which the Euterpes edulis can be found. Around 10 metres high, it is from their trunks that palm hearts are extracted for food consumption. Besides moss carpets and innumerable fungi, the Atlantic Forest is very rich in lianas and epiphytes, such as ferns, orchids and bromelias. These last ones, with their leaves disposed in rosettes, always retain a certain amount of water, creating a favourable habitat for the development of a particular fauna, such as various larvae and adult species of arthropods and amphibious.

One of the main characteristics of the fauna living in the Atlantic Forest, as in other tropical forests in the world, is the fact of being diversified and marked by the presence of many endemic species. With many of these species having a low population density, there is a great number of rare species.

However, it is important to point out that Brazilian awareness for ecological preservation is very limited and the Atlantic Rainforest was already reduced to only 5% of its original size. Still nowadays many species are condemned to extinction. The most affected areas of the Atlantic Forest are precisely the most important from the conservationist point of view. They are the remaining forests of South Bahia and Espírito Santo, which house the last examples of genus and species of plants and animals threatened by extinction. In the Southeast region, where great metropolis' like São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro were developed in former areas of the Atlantic Forest, there are still relatively large stretches, where areas of environmental protection have recently been created and even turned into the Reserve of the Atlantic Forest Biosphera. These are the last refuges of one of the richest ecosystems in the world.

by Elizabeth Höfling for the Foreign Ministry