With an estimated 8000 endemic plant species already identified and 350 species of fish not yet cataloged, the Atlantic Forest is a high priority for the conservation of global biodiversity.
Similar to the Amazon in biodiversity, the Atlantic Forest biome is divided into diverse ecosystems due to latitude and altitude variations. Life is more intense at the top stratum where a continuous layer of trees touching each other creates a permanent shadow environment of typical forest microclimate which is always moist and shaded.
The Atlantic Forest is comprised of a set of 5 forest formations: Dense, Araucaria, Semi Deciduous, Deciduous and Open Rain. It is associated with ecosystems such as salt marshes, mangroves and high fields.
What originally stretched for roughly 1,300,000 km2 in coastal line of 17 states of Brazil when the first Europeans landed in Brazil, the Atlantic Forest is now reduced to approximately 7.84% of its original area. This leaves about 102,000 km2 of land, making it the second most threatened biome in the world. Although small and extremely fragmented, it is estimated that in the Atlantic Forest there are about 20,000 plant species, including several endemic and endangered species.
Considered vitally important for approximately 120 million people who live in Atlantic Forest area, where the uncounted timber and non-timber forest resources such as cashews, palm trees yerba mate, medicinal and ornamental plants, and palm fiber live, this area is responsible for approximately 70% of Brazil's GDP. According to the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics it is estimated that almost 72% of the Brazilian population lives in the Atlantic Forest with 2,481 municipalities having all their territories in the biome.
The sustainable use of the Atlantic forest resources create jobs and foreign exchange for the economy, but predatory and illegal use of the forest often associated with international trafficking of species, have put the Atlantic Forest in a state of intense fragmentation and destruction, which began with the exploitation of Pau-Brazil in the sixteenth century.
Now reduced to nearly only 8% of its original area has caused the suppression of biodiversity in vast areas through possible loss of species known and not yet known to science, influencing the quantity and quality of water from rivers and springs, reducing soil fertility and affecting microclimate in the delicate ecosystems and contributing to global warming. The impressive numbers of Atlantic Forest degradation, the second most threatened biome in the world, demonstrate the inefficiency of environmental conservation policies as well as the lack of interest of enforcing the laws created to monitor the ecosystem.
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