Location and General Description
Pernambuco coastal forests cover an 80-km wide strip along the Atlantic Coast of northeast Brazil. The climate is tropical with annual rainfall ranging from 1,750 to 2,000 mm. There is a dry period from October through January (Coutinho et al. 1991). Forests cover Tertiary sedimentary plateaus and ancient slopes of the Borborema Plateau (IBGE 1985). The Mundaú and Goiânia Rivers are the ecoregion's southern and northern limits, respectively. It is bordered on the west by Pernambuco interior forests. Tropical nutrient-impoverished soils (yellow-red latosol, podzols and lithosols) are dominant (IBGE 1985). Forest spreads from low-elevation plateaus only 20 meters in elevation to the windward slopes of Borborema at 600 to 800 m elevation. The main type of vegetation is the Atlantic moist forest, a four-strata vegetation with emergent trees taller than 35 m (Veloso et al. 1991). Emergent and canopy layers are rich in tree species of Leguminosae (Parkia pendula), Sapotaceae (Manilkara salzmanii) and Lecythidaceae (Lecythis pisonis) (Andrade-Lima 1957).
Pernambuco coastal forests together with Pernambuco interior forests comprise one of the more distinctive centers of endemism in South America. The biological uniqueness of this area has been recognized by biogeographic studies plants (Prance 1987; Pennington 1990), birds (Haffer 1987) and butterflies (Brown Jr. 1987). BirdLife International has also recognized the importance of this region, ranking it as an Endemic Bird Area (Wege & Long 1995). Although united by the presence of several endemic species, Pernambuco coastal forests are easily separated from Pernambuco interior forests by a set of ecological and biogeographic features that include climate, geomorphology and floristic composition. Pernambuco coastal forests harbor one of the forest sites with the largest number of threatened bird species (13) in South America (Pedra Branca and Fazenda Bananeira; Wege & Long 1995). Alagoas curassow, Mitu mitu, a large and extraordinary bird considered extinct in the wild, was possibly restricted to the Pernambuco coastal forests (Sick 1993). Although 96 percent of the Pernambuco coastal forests have been removed, the largest forest remnants are still very important from a conservation viewpoint. They harbor, among important species of other groups of organisms, viable populations of a number of small-bodied endemic birds (mostly passerines) and the last populations of the red-handed howler monkey (Alouatta belzebul) in the Brazilian Atlantic forest (Mendes 1999).
Most of the Pernambuco coastal forests have been cleared in the last centuries. First, the extraction of Brazil wood ("Pau Brazil") was the main goal. This cycle was followed by a long period in which the sugarcane industry was mainly responsible for most of the clearing. Today, even though forest remnants are legally protected, forest conversion into agricultural fields, logging and hunting still persist (Almeida et al. 1995, Coimbra-Filho & Câmara 1996). Remaining natural vegetation is represented by 233.3 km2 of moist forests, with the last largest blocks of habitat (10 to 20 km2) in private ownership. Thousands of 0.01 to 0.1 km2 remnants surrounded by sugarcane fields compose the dominant landscape in this ecoregion (Ranta et al. 1998). Protected areas cover 87 km2 of lowland moist forest, but these reserves are few (41), too small (97 percent are smaller than 10 km2; Lima & Capobianco 1997) and isolated to maintain most of the biodiversity and key ecological processes.
Types and Severity of Threats
Although sugarcane plantations are declining, their replacement by other economic activities such as cattle ranching will probably maintain the high pressure on the last forest remnants. Key ecological processes such as seed dispersal have been critically modified by the extirpation of the large mammal and bird frugivores (Silva & Tabarelli 2000).
Justification of Ecoregion Delineation
Pernambuco coastal forests are recognized as a distinct type of humid Atlantic forest by several authors (e.g., Andrade-Lima 1957, Prance 1987, Veloso et al. 1991) due to their endemic species and distinctive plant and animal communities. This northern coastal patch of Brazil’s Mata Atlantica forests are unique in floral and faunal endemism. Much of the current vegetation has been converted to agriculture, so linework for this ecoregion was derived from IBGE (1993) to estimate historic ranges by following their classification of "open ombrophilous forest: secondary vegetation and agricultural activities" and then incorporating "Atlantic dense ombrophilous forest: : secondary vegetation and agricultural activities" in the state of Pernambuco, Brazil. Linework was reviewed and modified during an ecoregional workshop covering Brazil’s Atlantic forests (10-14 August, 1999, Atibaia, Sao Paulo, Brazil). Results of this workshop are also available (Conservation International do Brazil et al 1999).
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Prepared by: Jose Maria C. da Silva
Reviewed by: In process