This ecoregion consists of patches of moist forest that are surrounded by arid scrub forest and savanna. Located in eastern Brazil, this region’s vegetation consists primarily of semi-deciduous forest. Isolated from each other, these regions show excellent examples of speciation; there are many examples of closely related species separated by only kilometers (km). Currently less than four percent of the original forest remains, most of it having been logged and converted into subsistence agriculture fields.
Location and General Description
Caatinga moist forest enclaves (regionally called "brejos") represent well-defined patches of Atlantic forest surrounded by the Caatinga dry forest and the Cerrado savanna-like vegetation in northeast Brazil. The climate is tropical with an annual rainfall around 1,000 to 1,300 millimeters (mm). The dry period is from July through December. Forest enclaves are found mostly on four major regional plateaus (Chapada do Araripe, Serra de Ibiapaba, Serra de Baturité, and Serra da Borborema), whose rocks are very diversified in origin, varying from the Cretaceous to the Silurian. Forest covers the windward slopes and plateaus between 600 and 800 meters (m) elevation. The main type of vegetation is Atlantic semi-deciduous forest, with four strata of vegetation and emergent trees taller than 30 m. The emergent and canopy layers are rich in tree species of Leguminosae (Peltophorum dubium), Meliaceae (Cedrella fissilis) and Apocynaceae (Aspidosperma pyricollum). Habitats of transition between Atlantic forest, Caatinga dry forest and Cerrado vegetation are also found. A combination of tree species from Amazonian forest (Apeiba tibordou), Caatinga (Croton campestris), Cerrado (Parkia platycephala) and from the south portion of Atlantic forest (Podocarpus sellowii) sets this ecoregion apart from other portions of the Brazilian Atlantic forest.
Enclaves exist as forest islands within the semi-arid caatingas that surrounds them. Plant and animal species reached these forested areas at times of greater humidity when continuous forest existed. Examples of currently confined tree species are Podocarpus sellowii (Podocarpaceae), Prunus sphaerocarpa (Rosaceae), and Manilkara rufula (Sapotaceae). Today, forest enclaves are extraordinary natural laboratories in which confined populations of plants and animals are passing through a process of differentiation. In fact, some isolated populations have already differentiated enough to be recognized as species. Examples are found in plants, amphibians, lizards, and birds. The most extraordinary examples are some amphibians and birds. The amphibian example is given by Hoogmoed et al that described two interesting species of the genus Adelophryne, a forest frog. One species is endemic to Serra do Baturité (A. baturitensis) whereas the other closely related species is restricted to Serra de Maranguape (A. maranguapensis), located some kilometers apart. The bird example is the Araripe's manakin (Antilophia bokermanni), a wonderful bird recently discovered on the forest slopes of Chapada do Araripe. Forest enclaves are diverse; approximately 900 vascular plant species were recorded on of Chapada do Araripe. The richest plant families are Rubiaceae, Euphorbiaceae, Asteraceae, and Orchidaceae. Even with their considerable biological importance, forest enclaves remain poorly studied. Forest enclaves are of tremendous importance for regional populations, because they play the essential function of controlling the water cycle in a region where water is a critical resource.
Because of their more comfortable climate, Caatinga moist forest enclaves receive much stronger human pressure than their semi-arid surroundings. Consequently, these forests have been reduced in area by 96 percent. Forest conversion still persists at alarming rates. Remaining natural vegetation is represented by 1,915.7 km2 of semi-deciduous forest, with the last largest blocks of habitat (10 to 20 km2) restricted to the areas with difficult access for people.
Types and Severity of Threats
Four protected areas (from only 0.11 to 382 km2) cover 399 km2 of semi-deciduous forest. Subsistence agriculture and forest harvesting to provide wood for fuel threaten the remaining vegetation.
Justification of Ecoregion Delineation
These patches of moist forest are very distinct floristically and faunistically from the surrounding caatinga xeric shrublands, and occur on isolated mountains and ridges. Delineations were derived from the IBGE map following the classification of secondary "open ombrophilous forest", which occur as habitat islands in the greater caatinga ecoregion. Linework was reviewed and modified by expert opinion at a priority setting workshop.
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 Wildfinder description of this ecoregion.
- World Wildlife Fund Homepage
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