Serra do Mar coastal forests

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Poco das Antas Biol. Res., Brazil Photograph by WWF/ James M Diez

This tropical moist forest ecoregion along the southern coast of Brazil has a subtropical climate with high levels of annual rainfall. The Serra do Mar mountain range defines this ecoregion with montane forests of Bromeliaceae, Myrtaceae, Melastomataceae, and Lauraceae species. This region contains outstanding biodiversity in endemism and species richness of flora, mammal, bird, and herpetofauna. More than half of the original forest has been altered; urban development and tourism constitute the main threats to this ecoregion.

Location and General Description

The Serra do Mar coastal forests cover a 100-kilometers(km) wide strip along the Atlantic Coast of Southeast and South Brazil. The climate is subtropical with an annual rainfall ranging from 1,400 to 4,000 millimeters (mm) without a dry period. This area of Brazil is occupied by slopes and high summits of the Serra do Mar Mountain Chain formed by pre-Cambrian rocks. Sedimentary plateaus and marine deposits occur along the coastal zone. Tropical nutrient-impoverished soils are prevalent (yellow-red latosol, podzols and lithosols). Forests range from coastal plains located at 20 meters (m) elevation up to the highest mountains at 1,200 to 1,500 m, creating a remarkable vegetational gradient from shrubs to well-developed montane forests. The main type of vegetation is the Atlantic moist forest (lowland to upper montane), a four-strata vegetation with emergent trees taller than 30 meters(m). Emergent and canopy layers are rich in tree species of Leguminosae (Copaifera trapezifolia), Sapotaceae (Pouteria, Chrysophyllum), and several species of Lauraceae. What sets this ecoregion apart from other portions of the Brazilian Atlantic forests are large portions of montane forests with their richness of Bromeliaceae, Myrtaceae, Melastomataceae, and Lauraceae species.

Biodiversity Features

This large strip of coastal forests comprises one of the more remarkable centers of endemism in South America. Evidence for this statement comes from biogeographic studies of plants, birds, butterflies, amphibians, and mammals. Serra do Mar also constitutes a diversity center for several families of plants, including Myrtaceae, Lauraceae, Melastomataceae, and Orchidaceae. For instance, the Ecological Reserve of Macaé de Cima (72 kilometers (km)2) contains 229 species of Bromeliaceae, 73 of Melastomataceae, 51 of Rubiaceae, 47 of Myrtaceae, and 44 of Lauraceae. Dozens of endemic species inhabit these forests, including several threatened plant and animal species. This ecoregion harbors remaining populations of the wooly spider monkey (Brachyteles arachnoides) and of the golden lion tamarin (Leontopithecus rosalia), both endemic and threatened species. The São Paulo slender mouse opossum (Marmosops paulensis) also inhabits this ecoregion. The largest and best-protected tracts of the Brazilian Atlantic forest are located in this ecoregion.

Rare birds of this ecoregion includethe following: Blue-bellied parrot (Triclaria malachitacea), white-bearded antshrike (Biatas nigropectus), plumbeous antvireo (Dysithamnus plumbeus), Rio de Janeiro antwren (Myrmotherula fluminensis), gray-winged cotinga (Tijuca condita), kinglet cotinga (Calyptura cristata), Kaempfer's tody-tyrant (Hemitriccus kaempferi), and cherry-throated tanager (Nemosia rourei). Rare amphibians include Scinax jureia and Cycloramphus carvalhoi.

Current Status

The Serra do Mar forests have been reduced in area by 53 percent. Habitat loss occurs preferentially in lowland forests, which are replaced quickly by urban areas. Remaining natural vegetation is represented by 45,928 km2 of moist forest, but there are few large blocks of lowland forests. Protected areas encompass 1,403 km2 of moist forests, including large blocks of montane forest.

Types and Severity of Threats

Tourism and urban development represent huge threats to natural habitats because human population and cities continue to increase. Serra do Mar forests are spread over the more industrialized region of Brazil in which human population sometimes reaches 1,000 individuals per km2. In addition, traditional human activities like palm-heart extraction represent a severe threat to plants and frugivorous vertebrates. In some localities, more than 10,000 kilograms(kg) of palm-heart is extracted per year.

Justification of Ecoregion Delineation

Serra do Mar coastal forests represent the largest continuous block of montane Atlantic forest. Several authors agree that these forests comprise distinct assemblages of species, including several endemics. The delineation’s for this ecoregion were derived from the IBGE map to represent the coastal forests of south-eastern Brazil’s Mâta Atlântica region, which hosts many endemic species. Linework for this ecoregion follows the IBGE vegetation cover classification of four types of "dense Atlantic ombrophilous forest": "lowland", "submontane", "montane", and all subsequent "secondary forest and agricultural activity" within this matrix. Linework was then reviewed and revised at an Atlantic forest ecoregion workshop.

Additional information on this ecoregion

Further Reading

  • Brown, Jr. K.S. 1987. Biogeography and evolution of neotropical butterflies. In: T.C. Whitmore, and G.T. Prance, editors, Biogeography and quaternary history in tropical America. Claredon Press, Oxford. pp. 66-104.
  • Conservation International do Brazil, Fundacao SOS Mata Atlantica, Fundacao Biodiversitas, Instituto de Pesquisas Ecologicas, Secretaria do Meio Ambiente do Estado de Sao Paulo,SEMAD/Instituto Estadual de Florestas-MG. Brasilia. 1999. Avaliacao e acoes prioritarias para a conservacao de biodiversidade de Mata Atlantica e Campos Sulinos, MMA/SBF, 2000. 40p.
  • Experts workshop for ecoregional priority setting. 10-14 August, 1999, Atibaia, Sao Paulo, Brazil.
  • Fundação Instituto Brasilero de Geografia Estatástica-IBGE. 1993. Mapa de vegetação do Brasil. Map 1:5,000,000. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
  • Galetti, M. and A. Aleixo. 1998. Effects of palm heart harvesting on avian frugivores in the Atlantic rain forest of Brazil. Journal of Applied Ecology 35:286-293.
  • Gentry, A.H. 1982. Neotropical floristic diversity: Phytogeographical connections between Central and South America, Pleistocene climatic fluctuations, or an accident of the Andean orogeny. Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden 69:557-593.
  • GoerCk, J.M. 1995. Birds of Atlantic forest of Brazil: patterns of rarity and species distribution along an elevational gradient. Master Thesis, University of Missouri, St. Louis.
  • Haddad, C.F. and A.S. Abe. 1999. Anfíbios e répteis. In: Conservation International, editor, Workshop Avaliação e Ações Prioritárias para Conservação dos Biomas Floresta Atlântica e Campos Sulinos, São Paulo. http//
  • Haffer, J. 1987. Biogeography of neotropical birds. Pages 105-150 in T.C. Whitmore, and G.T. Prance, editors, Biogeography and Quaternary history in tropical America. Claredon Press, Oxford.
  • Klein, R.M. 1990. Espécies raras ou ameaçadas de extinção: Estado de Santa Catarina. Vol 1. Myrtáceas e Bromeliáceas. IBGE, Rio de Janeiro.
  • Landrum, L.R. 1981. A monograph of the genus Myrceugenia (Myrtaceae). Flora Neotropica, n° 29.
  • Landrum, L.R. 1986. Campomanesia, Pimenta, Blepharocalyx, Legrandia, Acca, Myrrhinium, and Luma (Myrtaceae). Flora Neotropica, n° 45.
  • Leme, E. 1998. Canistropsis: Bromélias da Mata Atlântica. Editora Salamandra, Rio de Janeiro.
  • Lima, A.C. and R.R. Guedes-Bruni. 1997. Diversidade de plantas vasculares na Reserva Ecológica de Macaé de Cima. Pages 127-146 in H.C. Lima, and R.R. Guedes-Bruni, editors, Serra de Macaé de Cima: diversidade florística e conservação em Mata Atlântica. Jardim Botânico do Rio de Janeiro, Rio de Janeiro.
  • Mantovani, W. 1993. Estrutura e dinâmica da floresta Atlântica na Juréia, Iguape-SP. Tese de Livre Docência. Universidade de São Paulo, São Paulo.
  • MENDES, S.L. 1999. Grupo mamíferos- documento preliminar. In: Conservation International, editor, Workshop Avaliação e Ações Prioritárias para Conservação dos Biomas Floresta Atlântica e Campos Sulinos, São Paulo. http//
  • Monteiro, M.P., and D. Sawyer. 1999. Cartografia e tratamento gráfico dos dados demográficos e sócio-econômicos dos biomas Mata Atlântica e Campos Sulinos. Relatório apresentado à Conservation International do Brasil. http: //
  • Prance, G.T. 1987. Biogeography of neotropical plants. Pages 175-169 in T.C. Whitmore, and G.T. Prance, editors, Biogeography and quaternary history in tropical America. Claredon Press, Oxford.
  • Radambrasil. 1983. Projeto Radambrasil: levantamento de recursos naturais. IBGE, Rio de Janeiro. Vol. 32.
  • Silva, A. F., and H.F. LEITÃO FILHO. 1982. Composição florística e estrutura de um trecho da Mata Atlântica de encosta no Município de Ubatuba (São Paulo, Brasil). Revista Brasileira de Botânica 5:43-52.
  • Silva, J.M.C., and A. Dinnouti. 1999. Análise de representatividade das unidades de conservação federais de uso indireto na Floresta Atlântica e Campos Sulinos. In: Conservation International, editor, Workshop Avaliação e Ações Prioritárias para Conservação dos Biomas Floresta Atlântica e Campos Sulinos, São Paulo. http//
  • SOS MATA ATLÂNTICA. 1998. Atlas da evolução dos remanescentes florestais e ecossistemas associados no domínio da Mata Atlântica no período 1990-1995. Fundação SOS Mata Atlântica, Instituto Socioambiental e Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas Espaciais, São Paulo.
  • Veloso, H. P., A.L.R. Rangel-Filho, and J.C.A Lima. 1991. Classificação da vegetação brasileira adaptada a um sistema universal. IBGE, Rio de Janeiro.

Disclaimer: This article is taken wholly from, or contains information that was originally published by, the World Wildlife Fund. Topic editors and authors for the Encyclopedia of Earth may have edited its content or added new information. The use of information from the World Wildlife Fund should not be construed as support for or endorsement by that organization for any new information added by EoE personnel, or for any editing of the original content.




Fund, W. (2014). Serra do Mar coastal forests. Retrieved from


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