The Atlantic Forest and the Atlantic Forest Central Biodiversity Corridor
The Atlantic Forest is one of the most species-rich biomes on Earth even though it has lost more than 93% of its original cover (most of that in the last 50 years). The devastation continues at an alarming rate and this tragic reality makes the Atlantic Forest also the Planet’s second most threatened biome (after the Madagascar coastal forest).
The Atlantic Forest Central Biodiversity Corridor stretches over more than 8.5 million hectares (21 million acres) in the south of the State of Bahia and in the State of Espírito Santo. It harbours a wealth of species and contains exceptional concentrations of endemic species (species found nowhere else on Earth). It is therefore a top priority for national and international conservation efforts of governments and NGOs alike.
The Cocoa Growing Region in the Southern Region of the State of Bahia and Camacan Municipality
The remaining forests of this region comprise a priority area within the Atlantic Forest Central Biodiversity Corridor because they contain some of the highest rates of species diversity and endemism in the World. Numerous species are under threat and are in urgent need of protection. In the 1990s, the New York Botanical Garden counted a World record of 458 tree species in a single hectare of forest (an area the size of a football pitch) in this region.
The subterritory Camacan, includes the municipalities of Jussari, Arataca, Camacan, Pau Brasil, Mascote and Santa Luzia and has approximately 94,500 habitantes, of which 63,800 (68 %) live in rural areas. The economic base of this region is agriculture and for many years was dominated by the production of cocoa under a system called “cabruca” where the cocoa trees are planted under thinned natural forest canopy so it has less impact on biodiversity. During the boom of the cocoa trade, this region was one of the largest producers of this fruit in the World.
However, by the end of the 1980s, an abrupt fall in the price on the international market and the appearance of the witches’ broom disease which devastated cacao plantations led to a severe economic crisis throughout the region. This resulted in an abrupt increase in poverty due to mass unemployment caused by the concomitant economic recession and had a harsh impact on the region’s biodiversity. Apart from the substitution of vast areas of cabruca with more intensive cocoa plantations which use exotic species for shade, the crisis led to an expansion of illegal logging and a significant acceleration in deforestation and substitution of cocoa with other land uses such as coffee without shade, pasture and, more recently, eucalyptus plantations.
The Serra Bonita Mountain Range
Serra Bonita is becoming famous for its extraordinary biodiversity and scenic beauty. One of the last remnants of moist submontane forest in the region, it covers an area of approximately 7,500 hectares (18,525 acres) located in the municipalities of Camacan and Pau Brasil, 130 km from the tourist town of Ilhéus on the Atlantic Coast and 526 km from the State capital of Salvador - click to see map.
The mountain range has a unique habitat with important altitudinal gradients of native Atlantic Forest (200 to 950 meters above sea level). Clear variations in humidity and temperature are detected in the vegetation which changes from evergreen forest with elements of moist lowland semi-deciduous forest, to moist submontane forest near the summits.
Still well conserved, approximately 50% of the land cover is pristine forest of extreme biological importance. The remaining area is a forest dominated landscape comprised of a mosaic of forests in different successional stages, with largely secondary forests in advanced stages of recuperation, interspersed with cabruca and small areas of pasture. Serra Bonita’s forests protect numerous springs which provide fresh water for the inhabitants of Camacan and Pau Brasil.
View of Serra Bonita from Below - Philip Reed
Sunset - Robin Moore
The Serra Bonita Reserve Complex
Situated at the centre of Serra Bonita range, the Serra Bonita Reserve Complex (SBR) is an innovative, private conservation initiative which aims to protect the mountain’s Atlantic Forest. The SBR comprises a “consortium” of privately owned properties totalling some 1,800 hectares (4,446 acres). In 2004, 1,200 hectares (2,964 acres) of the area were converted into four private natural heritage reserves (click here to see map). The SBR is the second largest area of private reserves in the Atlantic Forest Biodiversity Corridor (Cadernos da Biosfera da Mata Atlântica, Mesquita, C.A., 2004) and pioneer in the protection of submontane forest in the region.
The properties which make up the SBR are privately owned and their integrated management is conducted by IU through formal long-term agreements with the landowners. In addition to managing and protecting the existing area, IU’s aim is to expand the area under its protection to cover the entire mountain range of Serra Bonita (7,500 hectares or 18,525 acres).
In Brazil, Private Natural Heritage Reserves are part of the official protected area system and as such they are perpetually designated protected areas under Brazilian law. They are privately owned properties which are voluntarily converted into a nature reserve by their owner. In 2000, Brazil’s Protected Area System law gave these areas official protected area status whose use is restricted to scientific research, environmental education and ecotourism.
Importance of Private Natural Heritage Reserves for the Conservation of the Atlantic Forest Central Biodiversity Corridor
Less than 2% of the Atlantic Forest Central Biodiversity Corridor is covered by strictly protected areas (areas explicitly designated and managed for the purpose of preserving their biodiversity). Most of these areas are small (almost half are less than 2,500 hectares (6,175 acres)), isolated and suffer from severe problems related to their management and ownership. As a result, the system of public protected areas does not have the desired conservation impact.
Private Natural Heritage Reserves can be considered as the public protected area system’s best ally. They widen the total area of land under protection, fill in gaps and conserve unique habitats that otherwise may be destroyed. The resulting corridors connect forest fragments which provide safe passage for many species of animals. In permitting the circulation of the fauna these corridors help prevent the isolation of plants and animals that can generate problems of inbreeding which, in turn can increase the chance of their extinction.
Biological Importance of the Serra Bonita Reserve Complex
The SBR makes a critical contribution to the preservation of the Atlantic Forest through the conservation of one of the last remnants of moist submontane forest in the Atlantic Forest Biodiversity Corridor and protection of endangered, rare and endemic species.
Although it had been very little studied previously, recent research demonstrates that the few remaining moist submontane forest fragments in this region shelter large numbers of rare species many of which are new to science. Preliminary studies carried out by the Santa Cruz State University of Ilhéus and New York Botanical Garden have already identified more than 680 species of vascular plants, including 12 new species, amongst which a new species of bromeliad, one of the most beautiful flowers on the mountain.
Click here to see the list of flora found in Serra Bonita.
The diversity of species of all the groups of animals which have been investigated on Serra Bonita is extremely rich. Birdlife/ SAVE Brazil has designated SBR as an Important Bird Area. A preliminary study estimated that some 400 species of birds inhabit the mountain range of which 9 are threatened and 59 are endemic to the Atlantic Forest. The SBR is also the only designated protected area that preserves the habitat of the pink-legged acrobat (Acrobatornis fonsecai) a genus and species discovered recently (1996) and whose range is restricted to this region.
Of the six species of primates which existed in the region, four can still be found in Serra Bonita. These are:
• southern-Bahian masked titi monkey (Callicebus melanochir);
• Wied’s black-tufted-ear marmoset (Callithrix kuhlii);
• yellow-breasted capuchin (Cebus xanthosternos);
• golden-headed lion tamarin (Leontopithecus chrysomelas).
The yellow-breasted capuchin and golden-headed lion tamarin are endemic to southern Bahia and are endangered species for which the SBR represents one of their last remaining refuges.
The two locally extinct species are the northern muriqui (Brachyteles hypoxanthus) and brown howler monkey (Alouatta guariba). With the expansion of the protected area it is hoped that both will soon be reintroduced into the SBR.
Other larger mammals found at Serra Bonita include: puma (Felis concolor), ocelot (F. pardalis), little-spotted cat (F. tigrina), brocket deer (Mazama sp.), collared peccary (Tayassu tajacu) and South American coati (Nasua nasua).
Approximately 5,000 species of Lepidoptera have already been identified at SBR, including a number of endangered species and it is estimated that some 11,000 exist there (the same number of species found in the combined territories of the USA and Canada).
To date 75 species of wild bees have been recorded at Serra Bonita above 800 metres altitude. Several of them are new to science including the two most abundant species encountered there.
An updated list of fauna of Serra Bonita may be requested by emailing Instituto Uiraçu's Director of Research.