Note: This website is no longer being updated and is being maintained for archive purposes by the Department of Botany, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution. Please see About the Project for further details.
ATLANTIC MOIST FOREST
The Atlantic Coast tropical forest (picture) originally extended along much of the Brazilian coast, from easternmost South America in the State of Rio Grande do Norte southward to Rio Grande do Sul, forming a narrow fringe between the ocean and the dry uplands of the planalto (Collins 1990). In southern Bahia, this forest (picture) occupied a zone c. 100-200 km wide, extending southward from south of Salvador to northern Espírito Santo State (Gouvêa, Silva and Hori 1976; Mori et al. 1983; Mori 1989). The remainder is mainly in seven separated tracts from c. 15°-17°30'S, between Ilhéus and Punta da Baleia (Collins 1990).
The forest becomes progressively drier inland, and is replaced by "caatinga" or "cerrado" of the planalto (see respectively CPD Sites SA19 and SA21). Within southern Bahia are areas with complex topography and very different soils. The result is a patchwork of diverse micro-habitats throughout the superficially uniform forest.
The Atlantic forest of southern Bahia consists of four types of forest (Gouvêa, Silva and Hori 1976; Mori et al. 1983; Mori 1989). Each type occupies a narrow strip to c. 50 km wide within the coastal forest zone (Map 48), and varies in composition depending upon elevation, soils and drainage. As the forest gradually becomes drier inland, it changes from (1) littoral restinga forest to (2) southern Bahian wet forest - characterized by over 1000 mm of rainfall annually and no distinct dry period, to (3) southern Bahian mesophytic forest - characterized by c. 1000 mm of rainfall annually and a distinct dry period, to (4) liana forest - seasonally dry, deciduous forest characterized by c. 800 mm of rainfall annually with clear wet and dry seasons.
The wet forest and mesophytic forest are collectively referred to as moist forest. This forest appears to be stratified, with lower, canopy and emergent layers; epiphytes (especially ferns, aroids and bromeliads) and lianas are common. The seven most important species of trees (based on relative frequency, density and dominance) in an area studied near Olivença (Una municipality) were an unidentified Myrtaceae, Eriotheca macrophylla, Diploon cuspidatum, Rinorea bahiensis, Macrolobium latifolium, Eschweilera ovata and an unidentified Lauraceae (Mori et al. 1983).
The original extent of the southern Bahian moist forest was c. 70,500 km², with about 33,500 km² wet forest ("mata higrofila") and 37,000 km² mesophytic forest ("mata mesofila"). In 1976 the remaining extent was estimated to total just 8300 km², comprising 5800 km² of wet forest and 2500 km² of mesophytic forest (Vinha, Soares Ramos and Hori 1976). The fragmented extent still persisting is not known, but is less than half of what existed in 1976 and probably closer to a quarter, or c. 3-5% of the original moist forest - patches totalling only c. 2000-3500 km². Pristine stands of forest probably no longer exist in the region.
Within the Atlantic Coast tropical forest separate centres of endemism have been recognized, which are considered to have resulted from forest fragmentation during dry periods of the Pleistocene when cerrado and caatinga expanded their distributions. Southern Bahia is considered part of one of these refugia (Mori et al. 1983; Mori 1989). Brazil's moist eastern forests also appear to have many evolutionarily primitive species; such bambusoid taxa suggest that Bahia may have been a source of bambusoid grasses that colonized Amazonia (Soderstrom and Calderón 1980).
A preliminary list of plants (pictures) of the moist forest of southern Bahia was provided by Mori et al. (1983). The flora is related to the rain forests of the eastern Amazon but clearly distinct, with some shared species but a very high percentage of endemic species. Current research (Thomas and Carvalho, in prep.) indicates that the diversity of trees (pictures) in this region is among the highest known, with c. 440 species 5 cm or more in dbh per ha. The most prominent family by far is Myrtaceae, comprising 20-25% of the species; other important and diverse families include Sapotaceae, Leguminosae and Euphorbiaceae.
About 53% of the tree species are thought to be endemic to Brazil's Atlantic Coast forest (Mori and Boom 1981; Mori 1989), with a large but undetermined percentage restricted to the moist forests of southern Bahia. Many apparently endemic species await scientific study of herbarium specimens and publication, especially in large, poorly understood families such as the Myrtaceae and Lauraceae. General scientific research is still revealing very large numbers of species new to science or known from only a few collections.
Striking endemics from the broad region include three genera of legumes - Brodriguesia, Arapatiella, Harleyodendron; a genus of composites - Santosia; and four genera of bambusoid grasses - Atractantha, Anomochloa, Alvimia, Sucrea. At the species level, the number of endemics is very high; some of the notable plants include at least two species of Hornschuchia (Annonaceae); Couepia longipetiolata, Hirtella parviunguis, H. santosii, Licania santosii, Parinari alvimii (Chrysobalanaceae); Chamaechrista aspidiifolia, C. onusta, Zollernia magnifica, Z. modesta (Leguminosae); Ossaea capitata, O. marginata, Tibouchina bahiensis, T. morii, T. paulo-alvimii, T. stipulacea (Melastomataceae); Acanthosyris paulo-alvimii (Santalaceae); Aphelandra harleyi (Acanthaceae); Stifftia axillaris, Mikania belemii (Compositae); and Attalea funifera (Palmae).
The Atlantic moist forest of southern Bahia is home to a number of useful species. The epiphytic flora may still provide breeding sites for midges that are essential for the pollination of cocoa (Theobroma cacao), which is the most important crop in the areas of moist forest in southern Bahia (Fish and Soria 1978; Mori 1989). Ornamental orchids and bromeliads from the region have enriched horticulture.
Some particularly valuable timber species are Tabebuia spp. ("ipê"), Aspidosperma spp. ("peroba"), Cedrela odorata ("cedro"), Plathymenia foliolosa ("vinhático"), Astronium concinnum ("aderno") and Centrolobium sp. ("putumuju"). Two species deserve special mention because of their over-exploitation and the present rarity of wild trees. Caesalpinia echinata (Brazil-wood, "pau-brasil") was one of Brazil's first economically important forest products, being used to extract a textile dye; the country was named after this species. As early as 1809, the species was considered threatened in some of coastal Brazil - e.g. the State of Alagôas (Fraga 1960). Its lumber is prized for making the bows of musical instruments. Dalbergia nigra (Brazilian rosewood, "jacarandá") may be the individually most valuable timber tree in South America, used for furniture-making, veneer and high quality musical instruments. Because of its rarity from habitat loss and over-use, it was placed in CITES Appendix I in March 1992 and its commercial export thus prohibited.
The endemic palm Attalea funifera ("piaçava" or "piassava") is an important component of the local economy, which is found in the sandy soils of the coastal restinga forest. Its long coarse fibres are harvested for thatch, brooms, mats and rope (Silva and Vinha 1982).
Social and environmental values
The extremely high biological diversity of tropical forests signifies an equally high genetic diversity; preserving such forest results in the preservation of a large germplasm resource. In southern Bahia, where endemism and diversity are particularly high and the extent of remaining intact forest is so low, the forest preserves are especially precious.
The Una Biological Reserve was established to protect the endemic threatened golden-headed lion tamarin (Leontopithecus chrysomelas). The Atlantic Coast forests of southern Bahia are part of the South-east Brazilian lowland to foothills Endemic Bird Area (B52). More than 20 restricted-range bird species occur in this part of the forests; several are confined here, such as the fringe-backed fire-eye (Pyriglena atra), Stresemann's bristlefront (Merulaxis stresemanni) and Bahia tapaculo (Scytalopus psychopompus). Another 11 threatened birds are found with these forests; for many of them the only recent records are from the small protected areas in the region. Monte Pascoal National Park, Pau CVRD (Companhia Vale do Rio Doce) reserve (Fazenda Americana) and Pôrto Seguro CVRD reserve together harbour the threatened white-necked hawk (Leucopternis lacernulata), red-billed curassow (Crax blumenbachii), red-browed parrot (Amazona rhodocorytha), blue-throated parakeet (Pyrrhura cruentata), golden-tailed parrotlet (Touit surda), hook-billed hermit (Ramphodon dohrnii), black-hooded berryeater (Carpornis melanocephalus), banded cotinga (Cotinga maculata), cinnamon-vented piha (Lipaugus lanioides), white-winged cotinga (Xipholena atropurpurea) and Temminck's seedeater (Sporophila falcirostris).
European settlement in the region began almost 500 years ago, so the accessible fertile areas have long since been cleared for cash crops (primarily cocoa) and cattle pastures. About one-third of the Brazilians live in the eastern region, on just 6% of the country's land (Mori 1989). The remaining forested areas are predominantly on poorer soils or have been inaccessible, due to steep terrain or lack of roads. These forests on poor soils are suffering most from timber extraction and short-term subsistence agriculture and cattle-raising. Certain forests, however, particularly on good soils that can support economically important crops, have suffered disproportionately and are the most endangered.
Only 2-5% of the original forest throughout the Atlantic Coast forested region was estimated to remain in 1982 in a condition worth saving (IUCN and WWF 1982; Collins 1990). This fully agrees with the current assessment of deforestation in southern Bahia (cf. Mori 1989). Threats include conversion by timber exploitation, cash-crop agriculture (e.g. cocoa, sugarcane, rubber, oil palm, piassava palm - Attalea funifera, "guaraná" - Paullinia cupana var. sorbilis, cloves, black pepper), cattle pastures, subsistence agriculture, pulpwood plantations and housing - particularly along the coast, where tourism is an important industry.
Monte Pascoal National Park was established in 1961; in 1980, 85 km² were returned to the Pataxó Amerindians. Within a decade, their largely forested land had been completely cleared, and much of it became abandoned pastures (Collins 1990).
Most of the forest reserves are not adequately staffed or patrolled, resulting in inadequate protection against wood cutters, hunters and squatters.
The nature reserves in southern Bahia are quite limited in number and size (cf. Mori 1989), comprising less than 300 km² - less than 0.1% of the original 33,500 km² of wet forest (Mori et al. 1983). The situation for mesophytic forest is worse, as no significant reserves exist. On the fertile soils that support cocoa plantations there are few sizeable remnants of intact forest and no forest reserves. This forest type supports a unique assemblage of species but is poorly known.
Even for the wet forests, the reserves have not been created in a manner that ensures preservation of the maximum diversity of micro-habitats (Fundação SOS Mata Atlântica 1990; Mori 1989-. The federally protected forest areas are Monte Pascoal NP (135 km²), Una Biological Reserve (60 km²) and Pau-brasil Ecological Station (11.45 km²). Two state-owned reserves exist, Reserva Estadual de Laracas (3 km²) and RE Wenceslau Guimarães (125 km² - but less than 20 km² remain in forest). Privately held reserves include the Pôrto Seguro Forest Reserve (60 km²).
Additional reserves must be determined carefully, in order to conserve as much as is still realistically possible of the complex array of forest types in this biologically rich and diverse region. Privately held areas of forest in need of more permanent preservation include those near Serra Grande (Uruçuca), Maruim (Una), Belmonte, Camacã, Trancoso (Pôrto Seguro), Cumuruxativa and Potiraguá (Fundação SOS Mata Atlântica 1990). More reserves are urgently needed.
Map 48. Southern Bahia, Brazil (CPD Site SA12), showing the different original forest types.
Collins, M. (ed.) (1990). The last rain forests: a world conservation atlas. Oxford University Press, New York. 200 pp.
Fish, D. and Soria, S. (1978). Water-holding plants (phytotelmata) as larval habitats for Ceratopogonid pollinators of cacao in Bahia, Brazil. Revis. Theobroma 8: 133-146.
Fraga, M.V.G. (1960). A questo florestal ao tempo do Brasil-colônial. Anuário Brasil. Econ. Florest. 3(3): 7-96.
Fundação SOS Mata Atlântica (1990). Workshop Mata Atlântica: problemas, diretrizes e estratégias de conservação. SOS Mata Atlântica, São Paulo. 64 pp.
Gouvêa, J.B.S., Silva, L.A.M. and Hori, M. (1976). 1. Fitogeografia. In Comisso Executiva do Plano da Lavoura Cacaueira and Instituto Interamericano de Ciências AgrícolasOEA, Diagnóstico socioeconômico da região cacaueira, Recursos florestais. Vol. 7. Ilhéus, Bahia. Pp. 1-7.
IUCN and WWF (World Wildlife Fund) (1982). Tropical Forest Campaign fact sheet no. 14 Brazil. Washington, D.C. 2 pp.
Mori, S.A. (1989). Eastern, extra-Amazonian Brazil. In Campbell, D.G. and Hammond, H.D. (eds), Floristic inventory of tropical countries: the status of plant systematics, collections, and vegetation, plus recommendations for the future. New York Botanical Garden, Bronx. Pp. 427-454.
Mori, S.A. and Boom, B.M. (1981). Final report to the World Wildlife Fund-US on the botanical survey of the endangered moist forests of eastern Brazil. New York Botanical Garden, Bronx. 109 pp.
Mori, S.A., Boom, B.M., Carvalho, A.M. de and Santos, T.S. dos (1983). Southern Bahian moist forests. Bot. Review 49: 155-232.
Silva, L.A.M. and Vinha, S.G. da (1982). A piaçaveira (Attalea funifera Mart.) e vegetação associada no município de Ilhéus, Bahia. Bol. Técn., Centro de Pesquisas do Cacau 101: 1-12.
Soderstrom, T.R. and Calderón, C.E. (1980). In search of primitive bamboos. Natl. Geogr. Soc. Research Reports 12: 647-654.
Vinha, S.G. da, Soares Ramos, T. de J. and Hori, M. (1976). 2. Inventário florestal. In Comisso Executiva do Plano da Lavoura Cacaueira and Instituto Interamericano de Ciências AgrícolasOEA, Diagnóstico socioeconômico da região cacaueira, Recursos florestais. Vol. 7. Ilhéus, Bahia. Pp. 20- 121.
This Data Sheet was written by Dr Wayt
Thomas (New York Botanical Garden, Herbarium, Bronx, NY 10458-5126, U.S.A.), Dr André M.
de Carvalho [Centro de Pesquisas do Cacau (CEPEC), Caixa Postal 7, 45660 Ilhéus, Bahia,
Brazil] and Olga Herrera-MacBryde (Smithsonian Institution, SI/MAB Program, S. Dillon
Ripley Center, Suite 3123, Washington, DC 20560-0705, U.S.A.).
North | Middle | South
Botany Home Page | Smithsonian Home Page