Located on the Atlantic coast of Bahia and Espirito Santo states in Brazil, the Bahia coastal forests ecoregion has been given high priority for biodiversity conservation because it harbors an extraordinary number of endemic plants, birds, primates, and butterflies. Many of these species are endangered including the Maned Three-toed sloth (Bradypus torquatus) and Golden-headed lion tamarin (Leontopithecus chrysomelas). Considered one of the more endangered habitats on Earth, less than five percent of the original forest remains. Sooretama Biological Reserve and Linhares Forest Reserve are two areas which protect habitat from forest conversion to cocoa plantations and cattle ranching.
Location and General Description
Bahia coastal forest covers a 150-kilometer-wide strip along the Atlantic coast of Bahia and Espirito Santo states in Brazil. The climate is hot and humid with 1,200 to 1,800 millimeters (mm) of rainfall evenly distributed throughout the year. A dry period, from May through September, sometimes occurs in the ecoregion’s southern portion. Forests cover Tertiary sedimentary plateaus (Formation Barreiras), limited westward by the ancient slopes of Serra da Mantiqueira Mountain Range. The Itapicuru River limits the ecoregion northward. Tropical nutrient-impoverished soils are prevalent (yellow-red latosol and podzols).
Forests are spread over the low-elevation plateaus and marine deposits at 30 meters (m) elevation. The main types of vegetation are the Atlantic moist and semi-deciduous forests, four strata vegetations with emergent trees taller than 35 m. The emergent and canopy layers are rich in tree species of Leguminosae (Dalbergia nigra, Caesalphinia echinata), Sapotaceae (Manilkara longifolia), Lecythidaceae (Lecythis lurida) and Chrysobalanaceae (Licania micrantha). Bahia coastal forests are similar in both structure and composition to Amazonian forests, but they harbor a unique set of endemic species. Such characteristics set this ecoregion apart from other portions of the Brazilian Atlantic forest.
Bahia coastal forests have been given highest priority for biodiversity conservation because they harbor an extraordinary number of endemic species of vascular plants, birds, primates, and butterflies. Endemic species include three genera of legumes (Brodriguesia, Arapatiella, and Harleyodendron), four genera of bambusoid grasses (Atractantha, Anomochloa, Alvimia, and Sucrea), seven species of Inga, and the important piaçava palm, Atalea funifera. Recent plant surveys in two protected areas (Una and Serra Grande Biological Reserves) found that 41 to 44 percent of vascular plant species are endemic to Atlantic forest and that 26 to 28 percent are endemic to the ecoregion. Alpha diversity is also very high. For example, Una Biological Reserve (70 km2) and Serra Grande Biological Reserve (3 km2) harbor 420 and 430 vascular plant species, respectively. In addition to having so many endemics, Bahia coastal forests appear to contain many primitive plant species. As a result, they are considered to be the dispersal centers for some primitive groups of bamboos. Mammal species threatened with extinction include the Maned Three-toed Sloth (Bradypus torquatus) and Golden-headed Lion Tamarin (Leontopithecus chrysomelas) and trees facing the same threat (Dalbergia nigra) are found in forest remnants of this ecoregion. For several Amazonian species of plants and birds, Bahia coastal forests also represent the northernmost limit of their ranges in the [oceans#Atlantic Ocean|Atlantic]] forest.
The forests of coastal Bahia are considered among the more endangered habitats on Earth because they have been reduced by 95 percent. In southern Bahia, only 0.4 percent of the original forest remains. At present, forest conversion into pasture is occurring at alarming rates stimulated by the economic crash of cocoa plantations. Remaining natural vegetation is represented by approximately 9,532 km2 of moist, semi-deciduous and associated restinga forests. The largest blocks of habitat are protected by Sooretama Biological Reserve (240 km2), and by Linhares Forest Reserve (220 km2). Natural protected areas cover 920.03 km2 (0.9 percent of the ecoregion) of both lowland moist and semi-deciduous forests.
Types and Severity of Threats
New economic activities based on raising cattle represent a large threat to the ecosystem. There are 5,000 km2 of Atlantic forest associated with cocoa plantation that might be converted to pasture. Such activities would increase the habitat loss and forest fragmentation with all deleterious impacts associated with those processes.
Justification of Ecoregion Delineation
The Bahia coastal forests were mapped following the "Atlantic forest: dense ombrophilous forest" classification of IBGE. Delineations were derived by combining various vegetative types within this broader classification, including: secondary vegetation, submontane, montane, and lowland (terras baixas). This is an important areas of endemism, exhibits greater coastal influence, and host distinct flora and fauna from the neighboring Bahia interior forests.
Additional information on this ecoregion
- For a shorter summary of this entry, see the WWF WildWorld profile of this ecoregion.
- To see the species that live in this ecoregion, including images and threat levels, see the WWF Wildfinder description of this ecoregion.
- World Wildlife Fund Homepage
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