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Mata Atlântica: CPD Site SA13


South-eastern Brazil

Location:  Atlantic Coast forest north of Vitória and Linhares, between about latitudes 18°15'-19°20'S and longitudes 39°10'-40°25'W.
c. 484 km² conserved, almost all within Linhares Forest Reserve and Sooretama Biological Reserve.
28-90 m.
Tall terra-firme rain forest, shorter mussununga forest, várzea forest, savannas.
High tree-species diversity c. 637 species recorded; 372 species of shrubs, lianas and herbaceous plants recorded; many species and some genera endemic; disjuncts with Amazonia.
Useful plants: 
Valuable timber trees, also many species that produce resins, oils or medicinals.
Other values: 
Ecological islands of survival for fauna; potential genetic resources; important centre for environmental research, training and education.
Logging, poaching, access from highway through Sooretama reserve, escaped fires.
Córrego do Veado Biological Reserve (24 km²), Linhares Forest Reserve (220 km²) and adjacent Sooretama BR (240 km²).

Map49: CPD Site SA13


The tabuleiro forests (picture) of the State of Espírito Santo are an integral part of the Atlantic tropical rain forest (Monteiro and Kaz 1992). Their core area is in the north-eastern part of the state within the São Mateus, Barra Seca and Doce river basins (Map 49). The remaining forest is almost totally restricted to the north (Collins 1990), where the Linhares Forest Reserve and the Sooretama Biological Reserve are located, in the municipality Linhares. These two reserves comprise c. 460 km² of continuous forest. The Córrego do Veado BR located farther north in the Itaúnas River Basin (municipality Pinheiros) harbours 24 km² of tabuleiro forest.

The Tertiary sediments ("tabuleiros") of the Barreiras series which underlie this type of forest consist of low flat tablelands, varying between 28-90 m in elevation. The clayey sands are fairly deep, with somewhat indistinct horizons. They are poor to very poor in many nutrients, especially compared to the soils derived from decomposed crystalline rocks of the uplands in the western part of the state. The tabuleiro landscape is completed by shallow flat valleys dotted with marshes and lakes.

A hot humid climate prevails, differing from other regions of the Atlantic forest by its rather pronounced dry season (May to September), which makes the vegetation somewhat semi-deciduous. Annual rainfall is c. 1400 mm, with the rainy season October to March. The mean annual temperature is 22.8°C, with extremes (from the past 10 years) of 8.3°C (in August) and 37.1°C (in January). The mean annual relative humidity is c. 84% (Jesus 1987).

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Four distinct vegetation types occur in the tabuleiro forests of northern Espírito Santo (Peixoto, Rosa and Joels 1995):

1. Tall "terra-firme" rain forest, which covers the greater part of the region, has the highest species diversity, especially for trees and lianas. There are three strata. The canopy towers c. 31 m above the forest floor, with emergents reaching 40 m. The c. 280 species of trees per ha with dbh 5 cm or more make this vegetation type one of the most diverse in South America (Peixoto 1992). The density of these trees is c. 1358 individuals per ha, and c. 15 trees per ha are 80 cm or more in dbh. Many species have latex or buttressed roots.

2. "Mussununga" forest is found on sandy ridges, and covers a smaller area than the tall terra-firme forest. The trees are usually smaller, less densely distributed, with lighter coloured trunks and stiffer leaves. This forest is less rich in species, but has a surprising number of endemics, both woody and herbaceous. The lower stratum is made up of canopy-tree seedlings and populations of species of Araceae, Marantaceae, Bromeliaceae and Gramineae (Bambusoideae).

3. "Várzea" forest is found in places where the water table is at the surface during most of the year. This is an open forest, with a discontinuous canopy c. 8 m above the forest floor, and is the poorest in species of all four vegetation types. Tabebuia cassinoides is clearly dominant, together with Cecropia lyratiloba and Bactris setosa. In the dense graminoid herbaceous layer, Acrostichum danaefolium and Blechnum serrulatum occur. Submersed or floating aquatic vegetation appears where water is more abundant. In the ecotone between várzea and the other vegetation types are populations of Symphonia globulifera, Calophyllum brasiliense and Geonoma schottiana.

4. "Campos nativos" are natural savanna enclaves within the tabuleiro forest in places where the sandy soil layers are deepest. Generally this plant cover has two characteristic types: (a) discontinuous thickets which may reach heights of 4 m, interspersed with open spaces thinly covered by herbaceous vegetation; Cactaceae and Bromeliaceae are common; and (b) continuous, dense tall graminoid vegetation with scattered trees, mainly Kielmeyera spp.

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Although the region's flora is poorly known, it is estimated that species diversity is high, especially among trees. Endemism is also high, and many widely distributed species have distinct biotypes in this region. An inventory of tree species registered c. 637 species (Jesus 1987); the five families with the highest numbers of species were Myrtaceae (96 spp.), Leguminosae (85), Sapotaceae (33), Lauraceae (30) and Rubiaceae (29). There were 372 species of herbaceous plants, shrubs and lianas recorded. The cryptogamic flora has not been surveyed.

An important characteristic of the flora of this region as compared to other areas of tropical wet forest is the richness of robust liana species. Some families have more species of lianas per ha in Linhares than any other neotropical area, e.g. Hippocrateaceae, with eight spp. (Peixoto and Gentry 1990). There are a significant number of endemic herbaceous and arboreal species and genera. Some large tree species restricted to these forests are Simira grazielae, Polygala pulcherrima and Plinia renatiana. Endemic genera include the monotypic Hydrogaster (H. trinervis) (Tiliaceae) and Grazielodendron (G. riodocensis) (Leguminosae). There are many elements that are common to the floras of tabuleiro forest and Amazon forest, and also several vicariant taxa, which indicate former geological and climatic periods when the Atlantic and the Amazonian forests were linked (Peixoto 1992).

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Useful plants

Economically valuable plants include timber trees, such as Dalbergia nigra (Brazilian rosewood) which is most highly valued on the domestic and foreign markets, Paratecoma peroba, Astronium graveolens, A. concinnum and several Tabebuia spp. Resins and oils are extracted from some species, such as Copaifera langsdorfii, Virola surinamensis and Protium macrophyllum. Other species are used in popular medicine - e.g. Tynanthus elegans, Herreria salsaparilha, Piper spp., Tabebuia heptaphylla, Hymenaea courbaril, Geissospermum laeve and Cissampelos spp.

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Social and environmental values

The Linhares Forest Reserve and Sooretama Biological Reserve together represent the largest remnant of lowland forest in eastern Brazil. This tract contains 25% of the forested area (mostly mangroves) left in the State of Espírito Santo, and is one of the last remaining refuges for several threatened plant and animal species (Jesus 1987; Collar 1986).

About 281 birds are known to occur in the region. The Atlantic Coast forests of northern Espírito Santo are part of the South-east Brazilian lowland to foothills Endemic Bird Area (EBA B52). More than 20 restricted-range bird species from this EBA occur in this part of the forests. There are also a number of threatened species, many of which are also of restricted range. Important populations for several threatened species are in the Linhares CVRD reserve, Sooretama Biological Reserve and Rio Doce State Park (Minas Gerais), including white-necked hawk (Leucopternis lacernulata), red-billed curassow (Crax blumenbachii) - which has a third of its present population in these two reserves (Scott 1988), red-browed parrot (Amazona rhodocorytha), blue-throated parakeet (Pyrrhura cruentata), golden-tailed parrotlet (Touit surda), blue-bellied parrot (Triclaria malachitacea), hook-billed hermit (Ramphodon dohrnii), straited softtail (Thripophaga macroura), plumbeous antvireo (Dysithamnus plumbeus), black-hooded berryeater (Carpornis melanocephalus), banded cotinga (Cotinga maculata), cinnamon-vented piha (Lipaugus lanioides), white-winged cotinga (Xipholena atropurpurea) and buffy-fronted seedeater (Sporophila frontalis).

The Linhares and Sooretama reserves have an enormous potential for research on the structure, function and management of these ecosystems. Several factors make the Linhares Forest Reserve one of the most valued reserves in eastern Brazil for natural-area research, such as easy access, the availability of laboratories and lodging, extensive road and trail systems within the forest and an observation tower that overtops the canopy. This reserve is used as a training centre for administrators and staff of conservation units due to its administrative efficiency and the maintenance, enforcement and fire-control programmes. Both reserves are important regional and national centres for teaching students, developing projects in environmental education, and ecological tourism for children, university students and executives. The reserves are accessed by BR-101 highway, which links the states from Rio de Janeiro to Bahia.

Economic assessment

The tabuleiro forest is locally known as a production forest because of its potential and the intense timber exploitation that went on during the first half of the 20th century, as a result of the colonization of northern Espírito Santo State (Heinsdijk et al. 1965). Regional economic development received a considerable boost only after 1923, when a bridge was built over the Doce River, linking the city of Colatina to the areas northward. Most of the lumber and other forest products were taken out by this road, which depleted the forest resources of the region.

In 1943, the Instituto Brasileiro de Desenvolvimento Florestal (today IBAMA) created the Sooretama Biological Reserve in order to preserve the local flora and fauna from lumbermen and poachers (Pádua and Coimbra Filho 1979). In the early 1950s, the Companhia Vale do Rio Doce (CVRD) began to buy up tracts of land covered with natural forest to maintain a timber reserve for the production of railroad ties for the Vitória-Minas railway. However, the results of research carried out in the forest convinced the CVRD to maintain the natural forest, to use it as an environmental protection area, and to develop a series of experiments aimed at sustainable production - based on logging of only mature trees (Jesus 1987).

The Linhares Forest Reserve has become an economically viable enterprise for the CVRD, due to varied activities that contribute to sustained management of the area. Methods for collection and improvement of seeds, seedling production and silviculture have been developed for 160 native forest species. The CVRD greenhouse produces and commercializes c. 15,000 seedlings from 600 mostly native species. Generation of technological data from taxonomy to silviculture on species, harvest and sale of seeds from selected mother-trees, production and sale of seedlings, as well as other activities have made the reserve an economic asset. The development of programmes for the recovery of degraded areas as well as the other activities produce enough revenue to maintain this reserve and even supply funds for other activities.

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Forests that grow on the dystrophic soils of the Barreiras series are extremely vulnerable, because rapid decay and recycling is the main source of nutrients for the plants. Therefore, the removal of the forest cover makes recovery of composition and structure extremely difficult due to the sandy, easily leached poor soils. The areas surrounding the Linhares and Sooretama reserves were deforested and converted to other uses, mostly sugarcane cultivation and low-density cattle-raising on large ranches, which has created the constant threat of fire during the dry season.

The Sooretama BR also suffers from poaching pressures and logging along its entire perimeter, and especially along the highway BR-101, which cuts through the reserve. A restoration programme is urgently needed in the areas surrounding this reserve, which should include increased continuity with the Linhares FR, thus diminishing the ecological island effect and helping to ensure survival for many species.

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The Córrego do Veado Biological Reserve, the Linhares Forest Reserve and the Sooretama BR are permanently protected areas. The Linhares FR belongs to one of Brazil's largest mixed-economy companies, the Companhia Vale do Rio Doce, and the BRs are administered by a federal government agency - the Instituto Brasileiro do Meio Ambiente e dos Recursos Naturais Renováveis (IBAMA). According to Brazilian law, Biological Reserves are in preservation category A, which includes units for the most part unaltered by human activities, where the biota receives total protection and natural ecological and geological processes are not subject to interference. Scientific research may be done in these units, and public access is limited to controlled educational activities; recreation is not permitted.

The Linhares FR administration in the past few years has begun conservation programmes in several different parts of the state, besides the management and conservation of its own area. These programmes include collection and propagation of native species, especially those that are threatened or rare, restoration of degraded areas, and educational programmes.

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Map 49. Tabuleiro Forests of Northern Espírito Santo State, South-eastern Brazil (CPD Site SA13)


Collar, N.J. (1986). The best-kept secret in Brazil. World Birdwatch 8(2): 14-15.

Collins, M. (ed.) (1990). The last rain forests: a world conservation atlas. Oxford University Press, New York. 200 pp.

Heinsdijk, D., Macedo, J.G. de, Andel, S. and Ascoly, R.B. (1965). A floresta do norte do Espírito Santo. Bol. Rec. Nat. Renov., Ministério da Agricultura 7: 1-69.

Jesus, R.M. de (1987). Mata Atlântica de Linhares: aspectos florestais. Anais do Seminário Desenvolvimento Econômico e Impacto Ambiental em Área do Trópico Úmido Brasileiro A Experiência da CVRD, Linhares. Companhia Vale do Rio Doce (CVRD), Rio de Janeiro. Pp. 35-71.

Monteiro, S. and Kaz, L. (eds) (1992). Atlantic rain forest. Edições Alumbramento, Rio de Janeiro. 180 pp.

Pádua, M.T.J. and Coimbra Filho, A.F. (1979). Os parques nacionais do Brasil. Instituto de Cooperaço Iberoamericano. INCAFO, Madrid. 224 pp.

Peixoto, A.L. (1992). Vegetation of Atlantic forest. In Monteiro, S. and Kaz, L. (eds), Atlantic rain forest. Edições Alumbramento, Rio de Janeiro. Pp. 31-39.

Peixoto, A.L. and Gentry, A.H. (1990). Diversidade e composição florística da mata de tabuleiro na Reserva Florestal de Linhares (Espírito Santo, Brasil). Rev. Brasil. Bot. 13: 19-25.

Peixoto, A.L., Rosa, M.M. and Joels, L.C. (1995). Diagramas de perfil de cobertura de um trecho de floresta de tabuleiro na Reserva Florestal de Linhares (Espírito Santo, Brasil). Acta Bot. Brasil. 9(2): 1-17.

Scott, D.A. (1988). Preservação da natureza e pesquisa sobre a fauna pela CVRD. Observações e sugestões. Espaço, Ambiente e Planejamento 7: 1-52.


This Data Sheet was written by Dra. Ariane Luna Peixoto and Inês Machline Silva (Universidade Federal Rural do Rio de Janeiro, Caixa Postal 74582, 23851-970 Seropédica, Itaguaí, RJ, Brazil).

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