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Challenges and Opportunities for Biodiversity Conservation in the
Challenges and Opportunities for Biodiversity
Conservation in the Brazilian Atlantic Forest
MARCELO TABARELLI,∗ LUIZ PAULO PINTO,† JOSÉ M. C. SILVA,‡ MÁRCIA HIROTA,§
AND LÚCIO BEDʆ
∗
Departamento de Botânica, Universidade Federal de Pernambuco, Recife 50670-901, Pernambuco, Brasil, email [email protected]
†Conservação Internacional—Brasil, Avenida Getúlio Vargas 1300, Belo Horizonte 30112-021, Minas Gerais, Brasil
‡Conservação Internacional—Brasil, Avenida Nazaré 541/310, Belém 66035-170, Pará, Brasil
§Fundação SOS Mata Atlântica, Rua Manoel da Nóbrega 456, São Paulo 04001-001, São Paulo, Brasil
Abstract: With endangered status and more than 8,000 endemic species, the Atlantic Forest is one of the
world’s 25 biodiversity hotspots. Less than 100,000 km2 (about 7%) of the forest remains. In some areas of
endemism, all that is left are immense archipelagos of tiny and widely separated forest fragments. In addition to
habitat loss, other threats contributing to forest degradation include the harvesting of firewood, illegal logging,
hunting, plant collecting, and invasion by alien species—all despite the legislation that exists for the forest’s
protection. More than 530 plants and animals occurring in the forest are now officially threatened, some at the
biome level, some throughout Brazil, and some globally. Many species have not been recorded in any protected
areas, indicating the need to rationalize and expand the parks system. Although conservation initiatives
have increased in number and scale during the last two decades, they are still insufficient to guarantee the
conservation of Atlantic Forest biodiversity. To avoid further deforestation and massive species loss in the
Brazilian Atlantic Forest, the challenge is to integrate the diverse regulations, public policies, new opportunities,
and incentive mechanisms for forest protection and restoration and the various independent projects and
programs carried out by governments and nongovernmental organizations into a single and comprehensive
strategy for establishing networks of sustainable landscapes throughout the region.
Retos y Oportunidades para la Conservación de Biodiversidad en el Bosque Atlántico Brasileño
Resumen: En peligro y con más de 8,000 especies endémicas, el Bosque Atlántico es uno de los 25 sitios de
importancia para la conservación de biodiversidad en el mundo. Actualmente quedan menos de 100,000 km2
(cerca de 7%) de bosque. En algunas áreas de endemismo, lo único que queda son inmensos archipiélagos
de fragmentos de bosque pequeños y muy aislados. Adicionalmente a la pérdida de hábitat, otras amenazas
que contribuyen a la degradación del bosque incluyen – a pesar de la legislación existente para la protección
del bosque – la recolección de leña, la tala ilegal, la cacerı́a, la recolección de plantas y la invasión de especies
exóticas. Más de 530 especies de plantas y animales ahı́ presentes están amenazadas oficialmente, algunas a
nivel de bioma, algunas en Brasil y algunas globalmente. Muchas especies no han sido registradas en ningún
área protegida, lo que indica la necesidad de racionalizar y expandir el sistema de parques. Aunque las
iniciativas de conservación han aumentado en número y escala durante las dos últimas décadas, aun son
insuficientes para garantizar la conservación de la biodiversidad del Bosque Atlántico Brasileño. El reto, para
evitar mayor deforestación y pérdida masiva de especies en el Bosque Atlántico Brasileño, es integrar a las
diversas regulaciones, polı́ticas públicas, nuevas oportunidades y mecanismos para incentivar la protección y
restauración del bosque y los diversos proyectos y programas independientes llevados a cabo por los gobiernos
y organizaciones no gubernamentales en una estrategia amplia y única para el establecimiento de redes de
paisajes sustentables en toda la región.
Paper submitted November 19, 2004; revised manuscript accepted January 14, 2005.
695
Conservation Biology, Pages 695–700
Volume 19, No. 3, June 2005
696
Biodiversity Conservation in Brazil’s Atlantic Forest
The Atlantic Forest
The Atlantic Forest is the second largest rainforest of the
American continent, once stretching almost continuously
along the Brazilian coast and extending inland in the south
and into eastern Paraguay and northeastern Argentina. In
the past, it covered more than 1.5 million km2 —92% of
it in Brazil (Fundação SOS Mata Atlântica & INPE 2001;
Galindo-Leal & Câmara 2003). It is one of the world’s
25 biodiversity hotspots. Even though it has been largely
destroyed, it is still home to more than 8000 endemic
species of vascular plants, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and
mammals (Myers et al. 2000).
Extremely heterogeneous in composition, the Atlantic
Forest extends from 4◦ to 32◦ S and covers a wide range
of climatic belts and vegetation formations, from tropical to subtropical. Elevation ranges from sea level to
2900 m, with abrupt changes in soil type and depth
and average air temperature (Mantovani 2003). Longitudinal variation is also marked. Forests further inland are
increasingly seasonal, with average annual rainfall dropping from 4000 mm to 1000 mm in some areas of the
Serra do Mar (Oliveira-Filho & Fontes 2000; Mantovani
2003). Along with the tropical rainforest, the Atlantic Forest encompasses mixed Araucaria pine forests and distinct Lauraceae-dominated forest in the south and deciduous and semideciduous forests inland. A number of associated formations include mangroves, restingas (coastal
forest and scrub on sandy soils), high-elevation grassland
(campo rupestre), and brejos (humid forests resulting
from orographic rainfall in otherwise semidesert scrub
in the northeast of Brazil; Câmara 2003).
The history of the Atlantic Forest has been marked by
periods of connection with other South American forests
(e.g., Amazon and Andean forests) that resulted in biotic
interchange, followed by periods of isolation that led to
geographic speciation (Silva et al. 2004). Consequently,
the forest’s biota is composed of both old (pre-Pliocene)
and young (Pleistocene) species (Silva & Casteleti 2003),
and a number of areas of endemism (defined by both old
and young species) have been identified (Silva et al. 2004).
Although the extent and the current location of these areas are still controversial, at least five can be recognized
based on the distribution of terrestrial vertebrates and
plants: Brejos Nordestinos, Pernambuco, Central Bahia,
Coastal Bahia, and Serra do Mar, all in Brazil (Silva &
Casteleti 2003; Silva et al. 2004).
Habitat Loss
More than 93% of the original forest is already gone (Myers et al. 2000), and <100,000 km2 of vegetation remains. Some areas of endemism, such as Pernambuco,
now have <5% of their original forest (Galindo-Leal &
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Volume 19, No. 3, June 2005
Tabarelli et al.
Câmara 2003). Ten percent of its remaining cover was
lost just between 1989 and 2000, despite considerable
investments in surveillance and protection (A. Amarante,
unpublished data). Covering enormous areas, remaining
forest has been reduced to immense archipelagos of small
to tiny, widely separated forest fragments (Gascon et al.
2000). Forests in the northeast were already largely devastated (cattle ranching and timber shipped to Europe)
in the sixteenth century (Coimbra-Filho & Câmara 1996).
Dean (1996) identified the proximal causes of habitat loss:
overexploitation of forest resources by human populations (timber, fruits, firewood, poaching) and the expropriation of land for human activities (pasture, agriculture,
and silviculture). Brazilian government subsidies have fueled agricultural expansion, stimulating high-yield agriculture (sugar, coffee, and soybean; Galindo-Leal et al. 2003;
Young 2003). Forest clearance has been especially severe
in the last three decades; 11,650 km2 of forest have been
lost in the last 15 years (2.84 km2 per day; Fundação SOS
Mata Atlântica & INPE 2001; Hirota 2003).
Deforestation rates defy the legislation that exists to
protect the Brazilian Atlantic Forest. The Forest Code of
1965 requires that 20% of the area of any rural property in
the region be managed as a legal forest reserve (reserva
legal) and that gallery forest (the width determined by
the width of the river) and forest on steep slopes (for
example) be areas of permanent protection (areas de
proteção permanente) and preserved as such (Schaffer
& Prochnow 2002). Federal Decree 750 of 1993 delimited the Brazilian Atlantic Forest and its associated ecosystems and determined that any logging, forest cutting, or
disturbance requires prior permission by the appropriate
government agencies (reviewed by Câmara 2003).
Many threats persist despite this legal protection; for
example, there is a permanent lobby to expand agricultural lands ( by changing the legislation governing the legal forest reserve), residential areas, and land settlements.
From 1985 to 1998, for example, the National Institute for
Colonization and Agrarian Reform (INCRA) converted 50
large rural properties into land settlements, resulting in
the clearance of at least 150 km2 of forest—10% of the remaining forest in southern Bahia (Rocha 2002). Despite
recent improvements in staff capacity, the Brazilian Institute for the Environment (IBAMA) and state agencies
are still generally unable to penalize offenders with any
alacrity, and only a negligible portion of fines are ever
paid (Laurance 1999).
In addition to the relentless loss of habitat, the remaining forests continue to be degraded through the harvesting of firewood, illegal logging, collection of plants and
plant products, and invasion by alien species (Galetti &
Fernandez 1998; Tabarelli et al. 2004). Poaching continues to deplete wildlife even within protected areas in
the regions that contain the last few large forest remnants, such as the cacao-growing region of southern Bahia
and the coastal mountain ranges (Serra do Mar) in Rio de
Tabarelli et al.
Janeiro, São Paulo, and Paraná (Chiarello 1999; Cullen Jr.
et al. 2000; M. Galetti, personal communication).
The majority of the species officially threatened with
extinction in Brazil are inhabitants of the Atlantic Forest
(Tabarelli et al. 2003). Currently, more than 530 plants,
birds, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians of the Atlantic
Forest are threatened—some at the biome level, some
at the country level, and the endemic species at the
global level. It is reasonable to speculate that as global
warming occurs and habitats change, this already alarming number of threatened species will increase because
the widespread fragmentation of the Atlantic Forest limits species migration and colonization necessary for the
long-term persistence of their populations.
Conservation Status
The Brazilian Atlantic Forest is probably one of the South
American regions with the highest number of strictly protected areas (parks, reserves, ecological stations, and private reserves)—more than 600 new areas were created
during the last 40 years (Fonseca et al. 1997; GalindoLeal & Câmara 2003). Large numbers alone are insufficient, however. The system is far from adequate: (1) protected areas cover <2% of the entire biome; (2) strictly
protected areas ( World Conservation Union’s [IUCN] categories I and II) protect only 24% of the remnants; (3)
most are too small (about 75% of protected areas are <100
km2 ) to guarantee long-term species persistence (Silva &
Tabarelli 2000); and (4) among the 104 threatened vertebrate species, 57 have not been recorded in any protected
area (Paglia et al. 2004).
The fragility of the Atlantic Forest protected area system is not restricted to its extent and distribution. The
lack of trained staff and adequate financing in government environmental agencies severely limits protected
area management (Fonseca et al. 1997), and there is
conflict with indigenous and local communities over a
number of protected areas, both within and around park
boundaries (Arruda 1997; Rocha 1997; Galetti 2001). Indigenous peoples have claims that overlap a large number
of protected areas in Brazil, notably in two key parks in
the Atlantic Forest (Monte Pascoal National Park and Ilha
do Cardoso State Park; Galetti 2001).
Much of what is left to preserve in the Atlantic Forest is
on private land (Rambaldi & Oliveira 2003), and the establishment of a large and well-designated network of private
reserves is now recognized as indispensable in the protection of the region’s biodiversity. The Reservas Particulares
do Patrimônio Natural (RPPN) is an official protected area
category that private landowners can create voluntarily
and in perpetuity. There are now 443 RPPNs in the Atlantic Forest, totaling almost 1000 km2 (Vieira & Mesquita
2004). Several, such as the RPPN Frei Caneca in Pernambuco, which protects one of the two known populations
Biodiversity Conservation in Brazil’s Atlantic Forest
697
of the critically endangered Alagoas Foliage-Gleaner (Philydor novaesi) and a number of other threatened birds
(Barnett et al. 2003), are of global importance.
Reversing current levels of habitat loss and fragmentation will require improved law enforcement and innovative incentive mechanisms, including those aimed at
alleviating poverty and promoting social development.
This is essential because more than 100 million people
live in the Brazilian Atlantic Forest (Fundação SOS Mata
Atlântica & INPE 2001; Hirota 2003), and most forest fragments are privately owned (Rambaldi & Oliveira 2003).
One promising instrument is fiscal compensation, based
on area under official protection, given by states to municipalities (ecological ICMS). Since the state of Paraná
adopted a program of this sort, the number of protected
areas in the state increased by 165% (Alger & Lima 2003).
This initiative is expected to enhance the interest of decision makers in creating new protected areas and in implementing and improving the management and administration of existing protected areas (Alger & Lima 2003).
Further public policies, incentive mechanisms, and economic opportunities (including the Kyoto Protocol) for
the protection and restoration of the Atlantic Forest have
been developed recently (Alger & Lima 2003).
Major Conservation Initiatives
The massive wave of industrialization, economic development, and environmental degradation that began in Brazil
in the 1950s has, since the mid-1970s, resulted in a surge
in concern and actions dealing with now grave environmental issues, particularly in terms of effective mechanisms for protecting biodiversity. Initiatives are emerging from public policies and from an escalating involvement of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) ( Jacobi
2003). A brief review of the major conservation programs,
projects, and investments in the Atlantic Forest is in Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (2001). Here we mention
a few.
The National Biodiversity Program is a biome-level
conservation-planning initiative, launched in 1996 by the
Brazilian Ministry of the Environment and supported by
the World Bank and the Global Environment Facility. An
important component of this strategy is the Project for the
Conservation and Sustainable Use of Brazilian Biological
Diversity (PROBIO), for which the Ministry of the Environment has partnered with numerous organizations—
universities, research centers, and NGOs—to establish
priority areas for conservation in the Brazilian Atlantic
Forest. For the Atlantic Forest and southern grasslands,
the project involved more than 200 scientists, who
mapped 182 priority areas for biodiversity conservation
and outlined essential measures required for the protection of its unique biota (Conservation International do
Brasil et al. 2000). The results of this project consolidated
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Volume 19, No. 3, June 2005
698
Biodiversity Conservation in Brazil’s Atlantic Forest
a strategy for conservation action at the landscape level
that fosters the creation of biodiversity corridors (Sanderson et al. 2003) in three regions: fragments in northeastern Brazil (the Pernambuco Corridor) and southern Bahia
and Espı́rito Santo (the Central Corridor), and corridors
uniting the montane forests of Rio de Janeiro and São
Paulo (the Serra do Mar Corridor) (Conservation International do Brasil et al. 2000; Fonseca et al. 2004).
The Atlantic Forest is also benefiting through a specific
subprogram of the Pilot Program to Conserve the Brazilian
Rain Forest (PP-G7), an international initiative approved
and supported by the Group of Seven (G7) countries in
1991 (MMA 2004). Although the poor cousin to the Amazonian components, it has resulted in various bilaterally
financed conservation projects (so-called demonstrative
projects) in a number of states in the south and southeast.
An action plan for the conservation of the Atlantic Forest
was first drawn up by the SOS Atlantic Forest (Fundação
SOS Mata Atlântica), São Paulo, in 1991 (Câmara 1991),
but a subsequent plan was produced specifically for the
PP-G7 in 1998 and approved by the Brazilian government and PP-G7 participants, including the World Bank,
in 1999. The result was a decision, in 2000, to step up
investment in this subprogram, initially with the creation
of an advisory nucleus for environmental planning in the
Atlantic Forest (Núcleo Assessor de Planejamento da Mata
Atlântica [NAPMA]) within the MMA’s Secretariat for Biodiversity and Forests. A frenetic agenda of meetings, seminars, and workshops resulted in NAPMA producing a proposal for the PP-G7 Atlantic Forest subprogram. In this
proposal, the principal stated objectives are (1) conserve
biodiversity in the Atlantic Forest, (2) promote the sustainable and fair use of its natural resources, and (3) promote measures for its restoration (MMA 2004).
Two major, regional, conservation planning initiatives
are continuing in the Atlantic Forest. One is the implementation of the Central Biodiversity Corridor in Espı́rito
Santo and southern Bahia, which is sponsored by the
World Bank through the PP-G7 Atlantic Forest subprogram in collaboration with Ministry of the Environment,
state environmental agencies, and NGOs (Fonseca et al.
2004). This corridor embraces 8500 km2 of one of the
world’s most species-rich regions (Thomas et al. 1998;
Fonseca et al. 2004). The second is the implementation
of the Atlantic Forest Biosphere Reserve, created in stages
from 1993 to 2001, which extends through 14 Brazilian
states and covers 29473484 ha. The essential strategies
and objectives are the same—to develop conservation
policies and create and manage protected areas on a landscape scale (Corrêa 1995).
At the site level, we highlight the Brazilian World Natural Heritage Sites Program, a 10-year initiative supported
by the U.N. Education Scientific and Cultural Organization
and a pool of Brazilian institutions. Three of the seven sites
in Brazil are in the Atlantic Forest: the Iguaçu National Park
(1986; 185,262 ha); Atlantic Coast Southeast Reserves,
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Tabarelli et al.
which includes 29 protected areas (1999; 1,691,750 ha);
and the Discovery Coast Atlantic Forest Reserves, which
includes eight protected areas (1999; 111,930 ha). This
program seeks to develop mechanisms to support key
protected areas and to promote training, awareness, and
capacity building for the local communities. The second
large initiative is promoted by the German Kreditanstalt
für Wiederaufbau Bank in close partnership with some
state agencies of southeastern and southern Brazil. This
initiative has involved a major investment in the implementation of a number of protected areas in the states of
Paraná and São Paulo. Currently, the states of Minas Gerais,
Santa Catarina, and Rio Grande do Sul are also benefiting.
Initiatives focused on the protection of threatened and
flagship species have a long history in the Atlantic Forest.
At present, among the most visible and successful are the
conservation programs for the four lion tamarins (Leontopithecus) and the muriqui monkeys (Brachyteles) (Strier
1999; Kleiman & Rylands 2002). Since the early 1980s,
they have matured from focusing on saving an endangered species to focusing on broad multidisciplinary conservation programs. These programs have yielded important insights and innovations for designing communitylevel conservation strategies, including technical capacity building (e.g., Valladares-Padua et al. 2002; Procópio
de Oliveira & Rambaldi 2003).
The CEPF was launched in 2002 to safeguard threatened biodiversity hotspots in developing countries. It is
supporting projects in the Atlantic Forest that approach
the spatial relationships of land use and public and private protected areas, and the dynamics of forest fragments
(CEPF 2001). Within three broad programs (species protection, support for private reserves, and institutional
strengthening), support has been specifically provided
for (1) innovative economic incentives for conservation;
(2) expansion of the protected area system within the biodiversity corridors mentioned previously; (3) implementation of biodiversity corridor conservation strategies; (4)
studies to fill gaps in biodiversity knowledge; and (5) public awareness of biodiversity issues. Particular emphasis
is placed on ensuring that the initiatives supported complement existing strategies and frameworks established
by local, regional, and national governments.
The Way Forward
Although the number and scale of conservation initiatives
have grown considerably during the last few decades,
they are still insufficient to guarantee the conservation
of the Atlantic Forest’s biodiversity. Effective law enforcement is needed as a basic foundation of any conservation
strategy. Particularly important is the implementation of
the Forest Code, requiring protection and/or the restoration of “legal forest reserves” and “areas of permanent
Tabarelli et al.
protection” on all proprieties. This would significantly
increase the amount of forest habitat under protection
and ensure that rural properties comply with social and
environmental goals set forward in the Brazilian Federal
Constitution (Alger & Lima 2003). To avoid further deforestation and massive species loss in the Brazilian Atlantic
Forest, the challenge is to integrate the diverse regulations and public policies, new opportunities and incentive mechanisms for forest protection and restoration, and
various independent projects and programs carried out
by governments and NGOs into a single and comprehensive strategy for establishing networks of sustainable landscapes throughout the region (Galindo-Leal 2003; Rambaldi & Oliveira 2003). Such networks, which have been
called biodiversity corridors, represent the basic foundation of any effective strategy of biodiversity conservation
in highly fragmented biomes (Sanderson et al. 2003).
An integrated strategy to implement networks of sustainable landscapes along the Brazilian Atlantic Forest
should follow five general guidelines. First, conservation
actions must be planned based on natural boundaries
(conservation priority areas or biodiversity corridors),
rather than political boundaries (municipalities or states).
Second, full collaboration between government agencies
and other partners is vital for the design and implementation of sustainable landscapes. Third, large conservation
corridors should be anchored on a greatly expanded system of protected areas. Fourth, the restoration of gallery
forests is fundamental to establishing connectivity among
forest patches and as a means to guarantee that critical
water resources are maintained in the region. Finally, the
implementation of networks of sustainable landscapes
should be monitored using the best-available biological,
social, and economic performance indicators to ensure
that resources are used effectively.
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